MADISON, Ala. — Rocket City Trash Pandas President and CEO Ralph Nelson is resigning.
Nelson said in his resignation letter that it was time to step aside and pursue a new venture: buying and relocating another team.
“In the past months, I made a commitment to pursue this new opportunity, and with the Trash Pandas Inaugural season about to begin, my desire is to go back to the work that I love the most: building a new team and a new stadium,” Nelson wrote in his resignation.
He did not disclose details about the new endeavor.
The Trash Pandas said General Manager Garrett Fahrmann and Vice President Lindsey Knupp will lead the organization.
Nelson has been president and CEO of the Trash Pandas since his company, BallCorps, bought the Mobile BayBears and rebranded the team for its new home at Toyota Field in Madison.
Opening day at Toyota Field is scheduled for May 11. The team hosts the Tennessee Smokies. The stadium will be operating at full capacity with masks required and social distancing guidelines in place.
The City of Madison committed $46 million to build the stadium.
The contract between the club and the City also calls for the Trash Pandas organization to pay Madison $1 million annually from “the Venue Revenue.”
Minor League Baseball was shut down in 2020 due to the pandemic. Nelson told the Madison City Council in January 2021 the lack of baseball meant the club missed out on a projected $17.8 million in 2020 revenue. and had expected to pay Madison $1.4 to 1.5 million as part of its agreement.
Nelson also said the club used the stadium for 175 other events, generating $1.79 million. Nelson also said the club has raised $4 million in merchandise sales since its inception.
Nelson confirmed with News 19 exclusively that the team has not paid the City of Madison the full $1 million guaranteed in the pairs license agreement by the deadline. If Madison wanted, they could take action against the lease agreement with the Trash Pandas. Nothing indicates that will be the case as of this writing.
Nelson claims because the team did not play any ballgames, they are not obligated to pay the City of Madison the $1 million dollar fee. Nelson says he was told that by the person who wrote the agreement.
“When I realized that we were not going to be able to meet the $1 million dollar guarantee. I sought legal advice and was given legal advice that gave me a great, great amount of comfort,” said Nelson.
The Trash Pandas claim they never laid anyone off during the pandemic. Nelson says he prioritized revenue to cover his people over the guarantee with Madison.
“I felt a responsibility to people who had picked up their lives to move here to create what I thought was the best staff in minor league baseball, said Nelson.
The City of Madison and Mayor Paul Finley told News 19 they plan to expand upon the ongoing audit of the Trash Pandas 2020 financials, including the money not yet paid to the city. That could come as soon as Thursday.
Nelson’s full statement is below:
Dear BallCorps Investors, Community Leaders,
Corporate Sponsors and Trash Panda Employees,
It is with great pride and a tremendous sense of accomplishment, that I share the news that I have decided it is time step aside from my role with the Rocket City Trash Pandas to pursue a new venture.
For the past several years, we have worked tirelessly to create the most state-of-the-art baseball stadium in Minor League Baseball. My passion for finding and upgrading underperforming Minor League Baseball teams came to fruition when the Mobile Bay Bears were relocated to Madison and rebranded as the Rocket City Trash Pandas. The Trash Panda brand is now known throughout the world and I am beyond proud of this unprecedented accomplishment. My singular goal has always been to bring Minor League baseball back to North Alabama and, in less than two weeks, that goal will be accomplished with the Trash Pandas Inaugural Season Opener on May 11, 2021.
That said, it is time for me to focus my energies on a new project. As a result of the work we accomplished in North Alabama, a new opportunity was presented to me in late 2019. It was the pursuit of another team and potential relocation, which will require my full attention. I began due diligence on this project while overseeing the day-to-day operations of the Trash Pandas. I was committed to ensuring the Trash Pandas were poised for success and wanted to see them through the first season. When the pandemic hit, the new opportunity was to be put on hold so I could focus my energies on keeping the Trash Pandas franchise afloat, and utilizing Toyota Field in the very best ways possible while being Covid compliant, all without the teams’ primary revenue source: professional baseball. I feel that at this time, we have accomplished all that and more. In the past months, I made a commitment to pursue this new opportunity, and with the Trash Pandas Inaugural season about to begin, my desire is to go back to the work that I love the most: building a new team and a new stadium.
As Opening Day approaches, it seems to be the right time to step down and leave the Trash Pandas in the hands of the BallCorps partners. I look forward to cheering for the Trash Pandas on Opening Day and subsequent games when my schedule allows.
I thank all of you for your support, enthusiasm, belief and trust in me. Without you, this dream would not have been realized.
The Trash Pandas issued a statement in response to Nelson’s resignation stating:
Today Ralph Nelson announced his resignation to the Trash Pandas. We thank him for his service and wish him the best in his future endeavors. With the full support of ownership, which remains unchanged, General Manager, Garrett Fahrmann and Vice President, Lindsey Knupp, will capably lead the organization.
We eagerly anticipate the official launch of Trash Pandas baseball in front of a sold-out crowd on May 11. Despite the host of challenges this past year, we would like to thank each of you for your support and enthusiasm. Opening Day will allow us all to finally commemorate the collective efforts of our employees, community leaders, and corporate partners, all of whom have worked tirelessly to create this pinnacle moment – to finally play baseball in a hometown region that has welcomed us wholeheartedly.
We look forward to continuing to play an active role in bringing joy, entertainment and pastimes for years to come in Northern Alabama.Rocket City Trash Pandas
The City of Madison released the following statement Wednesday evening:
“The City of Madison has been working closely with the Ballcorps team to ensure success for Toyota Field and the Trash Pandas. While this change in leadership comes at a critical time ahead of opening day, we are confident in the professional staff Ballcorps has assembled to lead us through the 2021 season. The City continues to work with Ballcorps to finalize the 2020 season audits as per our License agreement and has every confidence we will receive full payment once the audit is complete.”
Mayor Paul Finely released the following statement Thursday morning.
“The City of Madison has already received $165,738.12 from Ballcorps for the 2020 season and are in the final stages of the required audit as agreed to in the lease agreement. As confirmed from our Revenue Department, Ballcorps is current on their sales tax payments and there are no outstanding delinquencies. While the pandemic affected many businesses, the Trash Panda team successfully hosted over 175 separate community events throughout 2020 and have assured full payment to the City following the audit. Every organization is larger than one person, and our Rocket City Trash Pandas have an incredible staff ready to welcome our community into Toyota Field May 11th….. Let’s ‘Play Ball!’”Mayor Paul Finely
Updated at 9:55 a.m. to correct 2020 revenue figures were based on projections for unplayed season.