Naturals GM Justin Cole on Playing Ball with Local Leadership, NWA Business Community (Executive Q&A)

Naturals GM Justin Cole on Playing Ball with Local Leadership, NWA Business Community (Executive Q&A)
Justin Cole

Justin Cole was named general manager of the Naturals, a farm team for the Kansas City Royals, in May 2013.

Until his promotion, Cole, 32, had served as the assistant general manager of the Northwest Arkansas Naturals since its move to Springdale in 2007. He previously was a sales manager and co-general manager of the Wichita Wranglers.

Cole graduated from the University of Buffalo with a bachelor’s degree in communications and a minor in marketing. He is a native of Barker, N.Y., just outside of Buffalo.

What is your favorite baseball memory?

Definitely being in Midland when we clinched the 2010 Texas League championship. I’m from Buffalo, so no teams I root for had ever won a championship. It was really cool to be close to and experience that moment.

What’s new for the Naturals this season?

It’s probably too early to tell on the field at this time as they are still early in spring training, but I think we’ll have a very competitive team. We ended last season in the playoff chase, falling just short, and a lot of those same players will likely start the season on our roster. All rank among the top 15 Royals prospects.

From the perspective of Arvest Ballpark, we are introducing free Wi-Fi for all fans this season, which should add a nice interactive element to the ballpark experience. We’re also debuting a ballpark train for kids that will circle our 360-degree concourse. We’ve also done a lot of minor facility improvements, including adding a digital lineup board next to Guest Services, which will display lineups, stats and upcoming promotions, adding picnic seating next to some of our concession areas and upgrading some our kid’s inflatables.

How has minor league baseball changed, for good and for bad, since you joined the industry?

No real changes for the bad in my opinion. From the good aspect there are a lot of new facilities in new markets in the last 10-15 years, which offer a great way to share ideas on how to keep your venue up-to-date and relevant as it matures. There is also much better communication between clubs, both within the respective leagues and across classifications.

What did it mean to you when you were named general manager, and what have you learned in the past year as the GM?

It meant the fulfillment of a dream of mine. I was extremely appreciative of the support my ownership showed in allowing me to step right into the role and also having the support of the rest of our front office staff and colleagues upon being named GM of the Naturals. It’s been a consistent learning experience, and I don’t expect that to end anytime soon.

The Naturals play in Springdale but represent the region. How does the organization try to market the team and attract fans from the entire area?

We constantly stay engaged with all of the local leadership, both on a city and a chamber of commerce level. It’s a big emphasis for our staff to be visible at as many of the networking, regional after-hours events and annual meetings as possible. From a marketing standpoint, we partner with media ranging from Joplin to Neosho to Fort Smith as well as our local markets to ensure we’re staying broad in our reach.

What’s the best advice you ever received?

We work in a customer-oriented business, so treating others as you wish to be treated is still the best advice for how I like to go about my business, at work and in my personal life. I’m sure I’ve heard that advice from numerous sources over the years, but it still rings true in everything I do.