Lake Country Publications Sports Director JR Radcliffe provides tidbits and details from the Lake Country prep sports scene to the Wisconsin sports world at large. His weekly column presents exclusive interviews, commentaries and observations.
Jim Lindenberg likes to stay busy. A few weeks of downtime appear to be plenty.
Not even two months have gone by since the Hartland sports entrepreneur sold the Milwaukee Wave soccer franchise to Sue Black, but on Tuesday, his company (Lindy Enterprises) announced that it had bought a majority interest in Legends of the Field, a popular Wisconsin-based sports memorabilia and marketing company. Lindenberg will serve as president, CEO and Chairman of the Board for the operation, which specializes in collectibles, custom memorabilia and player appearances and signings.
"I've actually had conversations off and on for the last two years with (former majority owner) Joe Palmisano; I coached his boy in Lake Country Chiefs football and got to know him and his family," Lindenberg said. "The last two years, we've had conversations where he asked me to join him, but owning the Wave is like a double job. We had off and on conversations about how to grow his business, and then it came together pretty quickly once I was able to sell the Wave."
Lindenberg's purchase of the Wave four years ago rallied an organization from the brink of extinction, even though he didn't consider himself a soccer fanatic at the time. Though deeply rooted in sports, he admitted he also admitted he doesn't know all the ins and outs of the memorabilia business. But he knows an opportunity very well.
"I want to really keep my eyes and ears open," he said. "The sports industry is just huge. I want to see what opportunities are out there, not only in Wisconsin but the Midwest, nationally, internationally. The Packers are loved everywhere throughout the world ... it seems like there are a lot of opportunities marketing collectibles, appearances, all that stuff. I'm going to keep my eyes and ears open, listen to customers, competitors, vendors and employees and take this to another level."
Legends of the Field has been operational for nine years and built itself into the third-largest sports memorabilia dealer in the country. The corporate office is located in Hartland, with retail stores in Delafield, Mequon and Greenfield. The company calls itself the exclusive home for Ryan Braun and Clay Matthews memorabilia, among others.
Lindy Enterprises specializes in small-business consulting, and Lindenberg is also co-owner of NX Level performance training facility in Waukesha. He owned World Class Wire in Cable, which he sold in 2008, before taking over the Wave.
His new venture is a bit closer to home.
"Legends is all over, but its headquarters are in the Hartland industrial park, and they have the Delafield store, so it gives me a chance to regroup back in the Lake Country area and support the community," he said. "I'm able to go to different Chamber (of Commerce) golf outings: Pewaukee, Hartland, Delafield. I know a lot of people in the Lake Country area. ... we'll partner with some non profits and continue to help people in need, kids and families. It gives me a vehicle to give back to the community."
That was an emphasis with the Wave of Hope, the charitable arm of the Wave franchise. Lindenberg said he's satisfied moving on from that organization.
"The first part was to save it because they were out of business for a week, and we accomplished that by buying it," he said. "On the field, we made the playoffs four years in a row, played in the championship for three years and had two championships in four years. Unfortunately, we didn't win it this year. The other part is the business side of it; the goal was to make the financials a lot better than when I inherited it, and we did that every single year. Corporate sales were up, season tickets were up.
"People have come up to me constantly saying the Wave is back out there (in the community). As a group, I think we accomplished everything on solid footing. We made progress in all the areas I wanted to make it."
Lindenberg said he initially anticipated holding on to the Wave for "a year or two" once he bought it, rather than the ultimate four years. On Wednesday, the Wave announced it had retained the cornerstone of the program, coach Keith Tozer, for three more years through 2016.
"He can go coach soccer anywhere in the world; he's well-respected in the soccer world and we're fortunate to have him in Milwaukee," Lindenberg said.
Lindenberg's ventures extend to Arrowhead High School, where he has served as a project manager fundraising for the "Arrowhead Stadium of Dreams" project. Phase 1 of the project implemented new home bleachers and a press box that essentially transformed the stadium into perhaps the state's premier facility. He's now raising money for Phase 2.
"There won't be anything major this year; our gameplan is every year to show some improvement," Lindenberg said. "(In future years), the turf will need to be redone, the visitor's seating area, bathrooms, concessions. The original project was cut back so we could get something accomplished and show the community something significant, which we did. Now, it's a matter of adding little things here and there."
Lindenberg admitted it's a tough sell to raise money for a stadium that already looks top-of-the-line.
"There are many people with needs and a lot of things the community needs, so we try to be conscious of that," he said. "We know there are a lot of people in need. The improvements you see will be minor year to year unless we get an unexpected donation. Naming rights for the elevator is still open; there are tons of naming rights there. The advertising can last 30 to 40 years.
"It's a revenue source for Lake Country and particularly Arrowhead forever. We're setting it up as an ongoing revenue stream. It's the best high school facility in Wisconsin and probably the Midwest, and there are plenty of advertising opportunities."
Pictured: Jim Lindenberg (left) presents Milwaukee Wave coach Keith Tozer with the MISL championship trophy in 2011 (photo by Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel).