By Tracy Goldenberg
Of the multitude of professional sports teams in this country, only a small handful has been under female ownership. It is clearly a male-dominated industry, and very few women have dared to break that barrier. Enter Danielle Dronet, a 36 year old native of Louisiana and Owner/CEO of the Newark Bears – a minor league baseball team in Newark, New Jersey. Danielle is a petite woman who is of generous spirit and sharp business acumen, and she is making enormous strides toward producing a successful organization. Born into an abusive family life, and now battling health issues, we met with her recently to get her take on the business of baseball and how she has become such an inspiration to so many.
10+ Questions With Danielle Dronet
WYSK: How long have you owned the Newark Bears?
DD: I have been a partner since September 2010 and I took ownership last year in July 2011.
WYSK: Were you always a baseball fan?
DD: I always enjoyed watching baseball live or playing, but I was never a diehard baseball fan. As a young girl, I played until junior high, and then I coached t-ball for 2 years when my oldest son played.
WYSK: Where did you grow up, and what was your childhood like?
DD: I was born in Houma, LA. My mother left my father when I was 2 years old. My father worked as a Mud Engineer offshore so I lived with my grandparents most of the time. When I was about 4, my father remarried and moved us to Livingston, LA. From this point, I went through many broken marriages and abusive situations, if it weren’t for my grandparents I would not be the person that I am today.
WYSK: What does a typical weekday look like for you?
DD: It’s a long day. I have been fighting Lyme disease for 5 years, it’s very debilitating so on a good day it takes me 1-2 hours before I can step foot on the ground. I wake at 6am to take medication, and get up around 7:30am. I get the kids ready and send them off to school. At around 9:30am, I arrive at the stadium, having run errands on the way and dealing with urgent issues during the drive. At the stadium, a line forms…. employees, fans, players, etc. I do a stadium walk-thru and manage all that’s needed. Around 5:30pm, the gates open. I greet the visiting team and umpires, and start opening ceremonies. During the game, I check on all departments, put out some fires, high five as many fans as possible, grab and pass out brand tattoos for the kids, rush back to the office to take care of more pressing issues. I head home around 11:30pm, check emails until roughly 1-2am until bed.
WYSK: The Bear’s are very committed to the community, what are some of the team’s charitable initiatives?
The team is strongly connected to the children in the community. We bring in many kids for clinics with the players, and we host special events where they get to experience career and creative development opportunities.
Each program offers hands-on experiences for the kids that hopefully open up and encourage them to chase their own dreams.
WYSK: In a male dominated industry, have you ever encountered sexism? How did you handle it?
DD: All of the time… it doesn’t bother me though. I just continue with my head held high. There have been many instances where other teams trivialize or put down what I am doing in regard to building the brand, and then they turn around and do the same things!
We are often criticized for the way we manage our team, which is different from the norm. We look at our team, players and coaches, as our partners. When we need to make a roster decision, most of the time we include that player in our strategic planning. We are geared towards building a better player, which builds a better man, and better future for the player and our team.
WYSK: What gives you the strength to be resolute in such a manly environment?
DD: My past experiences with boys and men. I have 2 younger brothers whom I basically raised, 2 biological sons, 1 stepson and have fostered/adopted 5 boys and 2 girls. I can handle the “manly” environment, no problem!
WYSK: How do you balance such a full family life with such an all encompassing career?
DD: Balancing it all was much easier before I took over the team. However, having older children has made it much simpler, because we all work together to get everything done, it’s a team effort! This is the greatest lesson that I have been able to share with all of my children, regardless of whether they are biological or not.
WYSK: What’s your favorite thing about what you do?
DD: This is difficult… I love everything about this venture in my life, other than the hardships and obstacles that is. If I had to choose one favorite thing, it would be watching the kids meeting our players… with their little eyes filled with pride and excitement!
WYSK: You were a PR/Marketing professional, how did you end up owning a baseball team?
DD: My business partner, who also happens to be my fiancee, had a suite at the stadium for a few years, while he was volunteering as the team’s physician. The opportunity to buy the team was presented to us one day. With my background in PR and marketing, I was promised that I would be able to implement campaigns that I had created to increase product awareness and sales for the team and the league, which was exciting for me, but I am still waiting for that all to come to fruition.
WYSK: The Bear’s have seen their share of challenges the last few years, what would you say was your biggest challenge in your first year of ownership?
DD: The hidden debt and the magnitude of our not so stellar reputation and creditability. We are now much more aware of the changes that are needed in order to grow and promote our historic organization. However, money does not grow on trees and it takes time.
WYSK: What advice would you give a woman wanting to break into baseball or other male-dominated sports organizations?
DD: Keep focused, professional and determined. There are certain areas that you cannot “hang out in” (i.e. locker rooms), but there are many other ways to build relationships and respect with the players and management. No one is perfect, not even the guys that traditionally have dominated this industry. Being women, we tend to know how to multi-task and strategically plan a bit better than men, so it’s really not hard to make your mark. One last, and very important, thing… only commit to a venture without expecting to receive recognition for your accomplishments. There may be many tasks you will achieve that others will try to claim, discredit or ignore, it’s not fair, but it’s reality, and if this is a problem for you then you’re probably not cut out for this type of work.
WYSK: How do you define success?
DD: By the amount of children we can teach. The more fans that take the time to write about the positive things happening here and their personal experiences, will in turn help us to reach more children!
About the contributor: Tracy Goldenberg began her career in writing/marketing in the financial services industry. She has since explored different alternatives for her many talents, and is currently latching on to the green-living machine. She also writes for www.JerseyBites.com, as while undergoing an extreme mid-life career crisis she figures food and wine (and of course exercise) will carry her through. She has always lived by the motto “work hard play hard”.