Shepard was hired late last season by team owner Frank Boulton to resuscitate a franchise that many perceive to be in its final hour in the city. The numbers at the turnstiles are again generally unflattering. The ballpark still has leaks associated with Superstorm Sandy in October and Winter Storm Nemo in February.
Shepard knew this would not be a quick fix. And with the 16th season in team history working toward its completion, he is optimistically digging in and looking to push the Bluefish toward profitable times in the years to come.
"I see this market and I know that it's the wealthiest county in the United States of America," Shepard said. "I see a ballpark, which, for a ballpark that's 16 years old, has a lot to offer people, that people speak well of. The question I have is how do we get more people out here more often? I believe that it's going to take a management team with me at the front of it because the buck stops here."
The Bluefish, who have not averaged 3,000 fans annually since 2005 (3,036), will finish last in the eight-team Atlantic League in attendance for the third straight season. Through Friday's game against the Lancaster Barnstormers, they had drawn 131,256 in 56 openings (2,344 average) and were on pace for 157,040 this season.
Paul Timpanelli, the president and chief executive officer of the Bridgeport Regional Business Council, said he has attempted to host a couple of events at the ballpark in the last couple of months. But they never got off the ground due to a lack of interest.
It now appears that this will be the first time that the BRBC will not have an event at Harbor Yard.
"The trend from where they were at their peak to where they are today is obviously not the trend you want," Timpanelli said. "I don't think the park is a problem, the concessions aren't a problem, parking isn't a problem, safety isn't a problem. I think it's good baseball for independent. But it's just the luster (is gone)."
Shepard believes he has to regain the trust of the community and again bring relevance to what the Bluefish are doing on a day-to-day basis. The Bluefish are his sixth stop in pro ball, and his strong background includes working for Boulton at Prince William, Wilmington and Atlantic City.
"He is a guy that can make everything better," Boulton said. "But nobody has a magic wand and it takes some time to get your program in place. And that's what Ken has been working toward. I would think that Ken and the way he goes about it, it'll click for him."
Shepard understands that group sales is a significant catalyst for filling the ballpark as well as creating a network of fans that could, in turn, continue to usher in other fans on future dates through word of mouth. The number of group sales is not where Shepard wants it to be right now. And he is accepting blame. However, while the attendance figures are not particularly impressive on paper, they do demonstrate progress as the projected final numbers would represent the highest single-season total/average since 2010, when the Bluefish drew 160,653 in 65 dates (2,471).
The Bluefish, who have an advertising budget that approaches $30,000, drew a franchise-low 132,139 in 65 dates (2,033) last season.
"You just want it to be relevant," said a source who has worked in the city for a number of years. "You just want it to be important. Certainly as a business because I think it's important, but it really is more than a baseball team.