We had the good fortune of connecting with John Bollinger and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi John, we’d love to hear what makes you happy.
I believe my happiness starts with a mindset. Everyday I wake up grateful for knowing who I am, am appreciative of what I have, and am eager to see what new things the day will bring.
From there, the pursuit of happiness with those I love and care makes me happy!. There is no greater joy for me than attempting everyday to be the best husband, leader, friend, family member, soon to be father – you name it! It’s much easier to forget about the anxieties of tomorrow or the mistakes of the past when you’re present, having FUN, and giving each day the best that is in you.
And finally, it makes me so happy to help others find happiness – whether through a simple smile or an orchestrated effort. That is why I love my job so much. We often say we’re not in the baseball business at the Bismarck Larks – we’re in the FUN business, the experience business, the happy business. We preach that our mission everyday is to use FUN to make a difference in the lives of our players, employees, fans, businesses, and community. To be able to work everyday with an amazing group of people in the pursuit of making others happy is the greatest pursuit of happiness I can think of!
Alright, so for those in our community who might not be familiar with your business, can you tell us more?
The Bismarck Larks are baseball team located in Bismarck, North Dakota and a proud affiliate of the Northwoods League, a top developmental summer league for college players.
While we provide a great opportunity for these players development, the Larks consider ourselves an experience company more than a baseball team. Don’t get me wrong, there is great baseball! The Northwoods League is comprised of 22 teams, who play 72 games in 75 days, and have helped develop over 250 guys that reached Major League Baseball, including Max Scherzer, Chris Sale, and Pete Alonzo.
Our organizational vision though is to become the Disney of North Dakota – how can we create the happiest environment on earth in a ballpark? It all starts each day with a relentless focus on living our mission – to use FUN to make a difference in the lives of our players, employees, fans, businesses, and communities we serve.
That begins with our team and culture. We’ve recruited a passionate, talented, and positive team of 13 full-time and 80 seasonal employees who strive for excellence, happiness, and to inspire the same in others. We want to break the age-old stereotype in sports of long hours, low wages, and know that you can’t create FUN if you are not having FUN. Thus, our Leadership and Culture teams work hard to create the most progressive culture possible that emphasizes direct and honest feedback, freedom and flexibility in the workplace, and personal responsibility. We believe happy, trusting employees lead to happy, loyal customers which leads to a successful, long-term business.
Next, our team focuses on creating out of the box experiences people would not expect to see at a baseball game. We’ve introduced a retirement community cheerleading team, dancing inflatable Pikachu’s, and celebrate the opening of each game with hoisting a baby at home plate (aka the Baby Bird) to the song from Lion King – that’s just naming a few. Our 8-person promotional team and 2 mascots perform dozens of on-field games, dances, and skits from the moment a fan parks to when they exit the ballpark. We have a Fun Zone for kids of all ages made up of an inflatable bounce house, obstacle course, zip line, and ax throwing as well as organized scavenger hunts around the ballpark. Not only is the baseball great, but the show has made baseball FUN for everyone. The greatest complement when fans leave is “I’m not sure who won tonight but WOW did my friends and family have FUN.”
We also focus on this experience year-round. Through engaging social media content, quarterly magazines to our Flock Members, and special events throughout the year, we are constantly looking to share positive stories of FUN making a difference that make our fans, their families, and friends smile.
Another thing we do differently is tickets. Rather than your standard season ticket plans, Flock Memberships give fans an all-inclusive experience with the flexibility and service they desire at a price they can afford – this includes the ability to choose the right number of games for their schedule, flexibility to move game dates throughout the season, all you can eat ballpark food and soda, a customized jersey and hat, and exclusive member events year-round.
And we’ve had some early success doing it. After 20 years without baseball in Bismarck, the Larks kicked things off in 2017 with 27 of our 36 games sold out. After adding 300 additional seats in 2018, we sold out 30 of our 36 games and in 2019 sold out 97% of every ticket we had. Even during the pandemic when most teams didn’t even play, the Larks worked together with our fans and community health officials and put together a 3-team pod and played 75 games at home with 35% capacity. To our knowledge, the Larks were the first organized sports team of any kind to play in 2020 with fans in the stands.
And finally, our team focuses on using FUN to make a difference in our community. Instead of our jersey giveaway going to the first 1000 fans in attendance, we team up with a local sponsor and tell fans to get their jersey they must bring 3 cans good for the local food bank. All 1000 jerseys are gone within 3 hours and over 2500lbs of food are donated. The Larks Reading Program rewards over 9,000 elementary students across our state for hitting their reading goals and our Teacher of the Year, Hidden Hometown Hero, Team of the Month, Kid of the Month, and STEM All Star Programs recognize outstanding people in our community for doing positive things. We’ve even begun expanding our reach into organizing key community non-profit events such as the Bismarck Marathon and Bismarck Santa Run.
What I’m most proud of is that while our business provides a great product and service, I truly believe we are using FUN and positivity to make an impact on people’s lives. So many of us get caught up with work, busy schedules, and screen time we forget to slow down, have FUN, and create memories with those we love. At the Larks we believe people find happiness when they escape from these distractions and prioritize quality time with people and relationships that matter most. Thus, our bottom line isn’t measured in dollars and cents, but happy guests.
Ultimately, we bring people together. Our focus is the common good and creating command ground. We all wear one jersey and cheer on one team – together.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Bismarck and Mandan is a great place to live, work, and play!
If a friend was coming up I’d say come in the summer. The winters aren’t as bad as everyone thinks, BUT it can get down to -30! The summers though are amazing. Low to mid 80s and the sun doesn’t go down until 10pm. Here is what we’d do:
– Golf at Hawktree, Riverwood, Prairie West and then take a trip to Medora one day to play the Bully Pulpit. Medora is where Teddy Roosevelt came in his youth to hunt and started a business. After our round we’d drive through Teddy Roosevelt National Park, eat at the Steak Fondue and then see the Medora Musical.
– I love craft beer and Bismarck/Mandan has a lot of great options! My favorite is Laughing Sun where you can get a Larks Sun Light 🙂
– There is also some unique restaurants and bars including Craftcade (arcade and pizza place), Blarney Stone Pub, Roundhouse & Elbow Room, and Bismarck’s favorite Ground Round.
– One morning we get donuts at Bearscat Bakehouse – a Bismarck and Mandan staple!
– Bismarck/Mandan is also our state’s capital and full of a ton of history. We’d go check out the capital building, take a tour of the Heritage Center museum, and then head over to Mandan to tour Fort Lincoln State Park which is the home of General Custer’s house and the On-A-Slant Indian Village.
– And finally, we’d of course go to a Bismarck Larks baseball game! I’d have them sit in our Party Deck in right field so they could see an epic North Dakota sunset around 10pm. The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I’ve always believed success is preparation meeting opportunities. While it takes a lot of hard work to be prepared, opportunities present themselves in many shapes and sizes when you least expect it and you have to be ready to jump. I would never be where I am today without a tremendous amount of luck and the support of dozens of people along the way that made these opportunities possible.
If I have to narrow it down, I would start with my amazing wife who has supported my wacky ideas and trusted me to take us both on this amazing journey.
Second, I hit the life lottery when it comes to parents. My mom and dad gave my siblings and I the two greatest gifts any child could ask for – the belief that we could do anything in life if we set our mind to it and their unconditional love and support.
And finally, I would not have had the opportunity I have today without the belief and trust from my mentor and friend, Dick Radatz Jr. Dick is the Founder and Chairman of the Northwoods League and we met through the Alumni Mentor program when I was in the MBA & Masters in Sports Administration program at Ohio University. While some mentors gave students 10-15 minutes a month on the phone, Dick and his wife flew me down to their home, treated me like family from the moment we met, and trusted a goofy kid enough to help start an expansion baseball franchise in their league right out of graduate school. After 3 years of success, they offered me the greatest gift – an opportunity to earn ownership in a new franchise within their league which I was able to accomplish in a few short years. Dick’s trust and generosity inspires me everyday to pay it forward and do the same for others.
Linkedin: Bismarck Larks Baseball Club
Youtube: Bismarck Larks Page