About those B-Mets to Ottawa Rumors

I want to take a hack at the rumors that the Binghamton Mets will be moving to Ottawa in 2013 and use it to again define the relationship between a Major League baseball team and its affiliates. There are some parts of this story that are real, some parts that are unclear, and there are clearly some people who are bluffing.

First, the news. Yesterday, the city of Ottowa announced that they had selected a private development partner Beacon Sports Partners, to work with on rehabbing their existing stadium for double-A baseball by 2013.  The City would put up $5.7 million and the firm would contribute $5.5 “as the authorized representative for a stipulated professional baseball franchise that is a member of the AA Eastern League of Minor League Baseball,” as the city’s press release explains.  Note that which double-A Eastern League franchise is not specified officially. As I read it, Beacon Partners is not obligated to start contributing until they are officially representing an Eastern League team (but that could be wrong).

The deal between Beacon Partners and the City of Ottowa is not yet official. It sill must be approved by the city Council on February 22.  Peter Radke, a manager in the Ottawa real estate partnerships development office told Baseball America, “only one team is being represented by Beacon Sports and negotiating with the city.”

Also in Baseball America, Eastern League President Joe McEacharn did not rule out the possibility, but was not eager to confirm that there would be double-A baseball in Ottawa in 2013. “Even if we were to announce (a deal) tomorrow, I think you’re up against it (for 2013),” McEacharn said. “There is a tremendous amount of work to be done. We’ve done some exploration and will continue to do some exploration and we’ll go through the process…”

So, Ottawa has a stadium, which needs $10 million of work, and a private partner looking to finalize a deal with a team, but do they have a team? Friday’s story in the Ottowa Citizen breaks down how the money would be spent to improve the stadium and mentions that the Binghamton Mets are the likely target for the move, “Minor-league sources have earmarked the Binghamton Mets as the franchise being bought and moved to Ottawa.” (Funny use of the word earmark, which I’d never heard used outside of politics or the original agricultural sphere.)

In the Binghamton Press & Sun Bulletin, B-Mets President Michael Urda shot down the idea that his team is heading to Ottawa.

“The Binghamton Mets have not been sold, and we have not been contacted by anyone interested in our club.” Asked why the B-Mets are constantly reported to be the team that will be sold to Beacon Sports Capital and relocated north of the border, Urda replied “I don’t know. Call Beacon Sports Capital. Enough’s enough.”

Michael can I take a try here? You are rumored to be selling because your team is last in the Eastern League in attendance, and one of just two teams in the league drawing below 250,000 fans annually.  Your lease, renewed in November, has a major out clause.  The lease, per the P&SB “did not stipulate the team needed to remain a Double-A affiliate.” So in theory, the B-Mets ownership group could sell the B-Mets, and buy a New York Penn League team (they’re much cheaper). It so happens that the Penn League’s Batavia Muckdogs, have been operating with a “For Sale” sign on for years.

Urda has zero incentive to say, “Yeah, we’re selling.  We’re not making any money, so we’re cashing out.  See you later.”  The timing of the report matters too. February and March are huge months for corporate sales as teams finish up their big deals. Teams are trying to sell new season seats and groups here too.  Admitting the B-Mets are on the block now would absolutely crush 2012 revenues.

The Erie SeaWolves, the only other Eastern League team that drew under 250,000 fans in 2011, are the other logical candidates to move to Ottawa.

Ottawa versus Binghamton is not close.  Ottawa, Canada’s capital has a metro area population of $1.2 million people.  Binghamton, at 250k in the metro area is under one quarter the size.

As far as the Mets are concerned is there an impact yet?  Absolutely not. The Mets will have a double-A team in 2012. It will be called the Binghamton Mets. They will have a AA team in 2013.  It might be called the Binghamton Mets.  It might not be. It might play in Binghamton. It might play somewhere else, in a more convenient location.

The Mets and B-Mets have a Player Development Contract (PDC) that expires after this 2012 baseball season. The parties are free to extend their PDC, in two or four year increments, at any time while under contract.  Once the season ends, there is a window where teams both major and minor without PDCs in place can negotiate with prospective affiliates.

Here’s the key part.  There are only 30 businesses in America licensed to operate a double-A baseball team. There are only 12 licensed to play in the Eastern League. For example, the Mets cannot just pick up and declare the Brooklyn Cyclones their double-A team.  The Cyclones currently hold a New York-Penn League medallion. To put their AA team in Brooklyn, the Mets would either need 1. to buy a AA team (with their AA medallion) or 2. convince an existing double-A team to move to Brooklyn and build another stadium for the Cyclones somewhere else.  Neither of these things is going to happen.

If the Binghamton franchise moves to Ottawa, what happens to the Mets?  It’s not clear. Ottawa wants to be a Blue Jays affiliate. The Jays’s AA team is currently in New Hampshire.  If the B-Mets move to Ottawa, and get a deal done for 2013 to create the new “Ottawa Jays” what happens to the Mets?

Could the Mets do a deal with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats?  Sure, if the Jays or Fisher Cats want to end their mutual relationship.  It’s a nice stadium, which would actually be a major upgrade over NYSEG Stadium in Binghamton. Where else? The New Britain Rock Cats’ deal with the Minnesota Twins is up at the end of this year.  New Britain, which is almost due north of New Haven is about two hours from the City, depending on traffic.  It would be a huge upgrade for the Mets. The Mets will have a double-A affiliate.

The next big date here is February 22, when the Ottawa City Council can officially approve the deal with Beacon Partners. At some point, Ottawa and Beacon Partners will have to make plain which current Eastern League team will move.  Until then, just enjoy your weekend and Valentine’s Day.