In an uncertain economy, there are few guarantees in the baseball world.
Oh, the Yankees will lavish hundreds of millions of dollars on free agents in an effort to buy a pennant. The Pirates will continue to lose, rebuild, and lose some more. And Minor League Baseball (MiLB) will continue to provide the best entertainment value in sports.
Executives from the 20 leagues and 251 teams under the umbrella of MiLB convened for the 107th Baseball Winter Meetings last week at the Las Vegas Hilton. The four-day meetings included seminars on marketing, sales and promotions, league meetings, a trade show and camaraderie. The mood was decidedly upbeat, in sharp contrast to the spiraling economy which was foremost on everyone’s mind.
A number of vendors were understandably apprehensive. Baseball teams will need new bats and balls for the upcoming season, but the useful life of uniforms, towels and equipment can be extended for another year.
Clubs also exercised caution on purchasing new promotional items. Jobseekers attending the PBEO (Professional Baseball Employment Opportunities) job fair, held annually in conjunction with the meetings, were met with fewer job postings and interviews than in past years. But unlike the Arena Football League, which has cancelled the 2009 season, MiLB will persevere.
As MiLB President Pat O’Conner emphasized in his remarks at the meetings’ opening session, the secret to the success of the Minor Leagues is no secret at all. Success, said O’Conner, is based on “hard work, preparation and reinvention,” qualities the minors have in abundance.
While Major League representatives and player agents were ensconced in the opulent Bellagio Hotel negotiating monopoly money for free agents, Minor League personnel were busy preparing for next season. Last year’s attendance record is history. The goal is to set another record in 2009, a feat that everyone acknowledges will be difficult to achieve given the uncertainties in the economy.
According to a study conducted by Forbes last summer, the Minor Leagues are no longer minor. While Minor League players not on Major League rosters receive salaries ranging from $800 to $3,000 per month and a maximum per diem of $20, MiLB clubs have budgets ranging upwards of $10 million per year. Forbes estimated the average value of the top 20 clubs in MiLB at $21.2 million.
But the true value in the minors isn’t in the franchise, it’s at the ballpark. No sport does fun like MiLB. From zany promotions that keep the young and old entertained, to reasonably priced tickets – as low as $3 at some ballparks - and a variety of value-packed concessions and merchandise, the minors have developed a formula that is the envy of every sports league in the country. And just when you think you’ve seen it all, remember O’Conner’s comment concerning “reinvention.” Your next trip to the ballpark could be an entirely new experience.
O’Conner is celebrating his first year as president, during which he spearheaded a number of new initiatives, including the establishment of MiLB Charities. In keeping with the minors’ goal of becoming an integral part of a ball club’s community, the non-profit organization’s first endeavor was to contribute to the flood ravaged communities in the upper Midwest.
Another accomplishment has been the expansion of the laboratory known as Durham Athletic Park. Movie buffs may recall that the DAP was home to the hit movie, Bull Durham. MiLB intends to develop the facility into a year-round training ground for umpires and front office personnel and construct a museum next to the ballpark.
Goals for 2009 include social initiatives, such as Going Green whenever possible, developing future baseball fans through the National Youth Baseball Organization, and diversity initiatives that will include bringing new employees and providers into MiLB.
Unlike its big brother, Major League Baseball, and other sports leagues, MiLB does not anticipate any layoffs. In fact, the league office is moving into larger quarters in St. Petersburg, Florida and will increase staff over the next year, encouraging signs in a shrinking economy.
One of the best ways to escape the depressing economic news, is to spend a summer night out with the family at a Minor League ballpark. It won’t break your budget and the entertainment is guaranteed.
Jordan Kobritz is a regular contributor to the Business of Sports Network. He is a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner. He is an Assistant Professor of Sport Management at Eastern New Mexico University and teaches the Business of Sports at the University of Wyoming. Jordan can be reached at