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Ollie’s CEO, now majority owner of Senators, talks baseball, bargains

Mark Butler, CEO of Ollie's Bargain Outlet Inc., is majority owner of the Harrisburg Senators baseball team. In the background, a banner for the Dauphin County-based retail chain hangs in the left-field section known as Ollie's Cheap Seats. - (Photo / Amy Spangler)

On April 8, Ollie’s Bargain Outlet Inc. will continue its growth in the Southeast with a grand opening in Waycross, Ga.

On April 9, the Harrisburg Senators will host their home opener.

Both will be big days for Mark Butler, who is president and CEO of the Lower Paxton Township-based retail chain and, as of last month, majority owner of the Double-A Eastern League affiliate of the Washington Nationals.

“The transition has been 100 percent seamless,” said Butler, citing strong club management that remains in place.

Butler spoke with the Business Journal last week about his increased investment in the Senators and Ollie’s ongoing retail expansion.

Q: How has this organization evolved and how has interest in the team and City Island grown since you became part of the ownership group in 2007?

A: When we bought the team from the City of Harrisburg in October of 2007, there may have been a relevance issue in Central Pennsylvania. I believe now we are looked at as an opportunity to provide fun, safe, family entertainment. In particular, we are extremely strong with group outings and organizational situations. I believe the Senators are more relevant in Central Pennsylvania than they may have been on the entertainment side.

Some of the things we’ve done (on promotions and attractions) have become legendary. Who would’ve thunk that monkeys riding around on dogs would become legendary? But they have. How silly. But you know what? That is what minor league baseball is all about. We’ve done some national acts like the Inflatamaniacs, we’ve done the Diamond Dig, we’ve done the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders two years in a row. We’re going to do it again this year. That’s iconic. We’ve attempted to become more community-oriented within the team. With a local owner, perhaps, we’ll be able to turn it up a notch.

What role could you play in the future of City Island and efforts to drive additional development and visitation?

I firmly believe that the more activity there is on the island, the better the Harrisburg Senators will do and become more a part of the entertainment genre of Central Pennsylvania.

I believe that we have an unbelievable facility. It’s quaint, it’s charming. It’s got its nooks, it’s got its crannies. But I do believe that there are additional opportunities for events that we would have to work hand in hand with other civic groups and the City of Harrisburg to be able to, perhaps, have and hold at the stadium.

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