MLB Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr. had always imagined his youth baseball empire would expand far and wide, beyond its eastern strongholds, establishing a footprint that reaches a multitude of kids.
That might happen now that billionaires Josh Harris and David Blitzer—founders of Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, the parent company of the Philadelphia 76ers, New Jersey Devils and Prudential Center—have purchased a controlling interest in Ripken Baseball, according to a source. The investment is coming through Harris’ and Blitzer’s separate family offices, and the pair plan to merge operations with their own baseball brand, Cooperstown All Star Village, which is a youth tournament and resort outside Cooperstown, N.Y.
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Ripken and his younger brother, Bill, will remain active in the company and continue to pursue their goal of increasing access to the sport and providing big-league experiences for young players. The two brothers—who, like their father, Cal, Sr., played for the Baltimore Orioles—founded the baseball education and tournament experiences company in 2003 after Cal finished his 21-year MLB career.
“This partnership allows us to think a little bit bigger and grow a little bit faster,” Cal said in an interview. “Billy and I have always dreamed big, but we were limited in resources. Now our resources are much greater, and we can start to consider [new] ways that help more kids enjoy this great game.”
Harris and Blitzer will take over related Ripken businesses, including merchandise e-commerce, and control the Ripken’s four sports complexes in Elizabethtown, Ky., Myrtle Beach, S.C., Pigeon Forge, Tenn., and Aberdeen, Md. Ripken will retain ownership of the Aberdeen IronBirds, the High A affiliate of the Orioles, despite Harris and Blitzer acquiring adjacent facilities.
The transaction, facilitated by investment bank and Ripken investor LionTree LLC, positions Ripken Baseball and All Star Village for growth. (Harris and Blitzer bought the All Star Village last year for a reported $116 million.) The new owners expect to invest in new and existing facilities, with plans to expand and add more sports, including potentially lacrosse and soccer. Such moves allow Harris and Blitzer to expand their presence in the youth sports industry.
Including youth clinics and tournaments, the All Star Village and Ripken Baseball together hosted more than 15,000 teams and over 750,000 visitors last year. They’ll now combine the two major brands in youth baseball with their background in sports and entertainment to increase appeal and profitability.
While they’re becoming a bigger player in youth sports, Harris and Blitzer are continuing to grow their real estate portfolio, which includes a mix of various projects that touch on arts, entertainment, and sports. HBSE’s real estate business, which includes the historic Loew’s Jersey Theatre in Jersey City, N.J., also took over as operators of Central Park’s Wollman Rink in a joint venture in 2021. Adding a handful of youth sports complexes into their wheelhouse is the latest play in their real estate strategy which is known for investing in development projects around sports and entertainment venues.
There are already plans for a partnership with the Cleveland Guardians, in which the Guardians will sponsor one underserved Cleveland-area team to compete at the All Star Village this year. Blitzer, who owns equity in all five major U.S. sports leagues, recently purchased a 35% stake in the Guardians.
Ripken says the brand is in good hands with the group. Blitzer has been an unofficial advisor to Ripken for years, and it makes sense that the pair has figured out a way to play ball.
“When we first started talking, it was exciting to think of the possibilities of how we can come together,” Ripken said. “We have the same vision and can help kids enjoy sports the way we think they should enjoy them.”
(The headline of this story has been updated to accurately reflect the buyers.)
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