Josh Leventhal at Baseball America:
Despite public assurances by its owner that the team is not on the move, several baseball sources say the Eastern League’s Binghamton Mets are the team that has been targeted for a renovated ballpark in Ottawa.
Binghamton hopes to keep minor league baseball in town, however, with a short-season New York-Penn League franchise. Sources said city officials have already inquired about purchasing the Batavia Muckdogs.
At the end of August, the Mets signed a four-year extension with the B-Mets covering the 2013-2016 baseball seasons. If indeed, the B-Mets move to Ottowa for 2014, the Mets would have their AA team in Canada’s capital for three years. Given the uncertainty about the B-Mets future, I do not understand why the Mets signed a four-year deal when they did.
As a market for baseball, I discussed why Ottowa makes more sense than Binghamton here.
Mets’ affiliates in both Savannah and Las Vegas are playing in antiquated stadiums the teams would like to replace with new facilities.
In Savannah, part of the concept earlier this year was to use SPLOST money originally earmarked for a new arena. However, now, Savannah officials are considering shifting $19 million from that account toward renovating the existing Civic Center. This is a wildly unpopular idea.
Apparently, out in Las Vegas, the Howard Hughes Group is interested in buying the 51s, and “City officials would love to see a traffic magnet on the Cashman Center grounds,” where the 51s play. The writer fantasizes about what a Coors Field type effect a new baseball stadium could have in Vegas. Nothing seems imminent, and the Mets surely hope to be out of Vegas in two years, long before any ballpark is built.
The NFL chose to lock out their officials just prior to the start of the 2012 season in a dispute about money, and hoped that no one would care. The League was essentially right, TV ratings for the first three weeks of the NFL season have been solid, and Sunday’ night’s game “crushed” the Emmy’s.
The League and the refs are arguing about a number of things (pensions, salary, adding refs, full time vs. part time) that all come back to money. On pensions, the refs were promised a fairly valuable pension plan, that the League is trying to change into a 401k, where the officials would have to invest some of their salary and take on additional risk. That is an unfair demand from the NFL without further concessions. The most reasonable thing to do would be to grandfather the old refs in on their current play and start new officials off on the the new 401k deal. The alternative is that the NFL increases pay for all refs so that the value of the retirement benefits drop in comparison to total salaries.
On salary, the two sides are closer, in the words of Tim Millis, the NFLRA executive director, the disagreement on salary “ is a gap that could be closed with some minor concessions by both sides.” The two sides are arguing over much less than 1% annually of league revenues, for a league that is the most valuable sports property in America.
The NFL wants to make some of their officials full-time employees, which the union has resisted. The refs all work other outside jobs, and leaving those would cost them salary. To induce full-time employment, the NFL must pay enough to make that a worthwhile economic proposition for the officials.
Again, this is a lockout and not a strike. The League chose the most drastic course of action with their officials rather than bargain in good faith. Everyone should side with the officials against management’s heavy-fisted and unfair actions and attack on collective bargaining.
By the way, on the merits, I did not think the call that is drawing the most attention in the Seahawks/Packers game on Monday, the disputed interception/touchdown was the worst call of the game, or even the drive. There was a phantom pass interference call that set up that play, and a soft roughing the quarterback call that started the whole drive. And that’s the point. The replacement officials are just guessing. They lack the training, experience and yes skills to do their jobs correctly.
Whose fault is it? The NFL. Yes, the players are the best in the world at what they do. They are paid as such. The regular refs are also the best in their business. Pay them as such.
If only there was a way to make the NFL feel soem pain. Turn off the TV? Can sports fans turn off the football and watch baseball?
The Player Development Contract signed by Major and Minor League teams is discussed in detail in Rule 56 of the official Major League Baseball Rules (see here for the 2008 version).
Remember, teams and their affiliates can sign an extension to their PDC at any time.
The Mets need need new affiliates at two levels: AAA and A-ball. In the AAA case, the only open spot is Vegas. There are lots of options in A-ball where the Mets and Savannah Sand Gnats have not announced a new agreement.
The timeline for signing with a new afilliate is as follows:
- 9/4-9/11 – Clubs notify their central office of their intent to seek reaffiliation. MLB teams notify the office of the commisioner, while minor league teams notify the office of the minor league president.
- 9/12-9/15 – “The Office of the Commissioner and the President of the Minor League Association give notice to all Clubs seeking reaffiliation, providing a list of Clubs in the same classification or sub-classification that are eligible for a PDC affiliation and that are the subject of a notice of a desire to reaffiliate.
- 9/16-9/30 – OPEN NEGOTIATION
- 10/1-10/7 – Forced marriage – “Clubs that have not agreed to enter into a PDC arrangement or renew an existing PDC arrangement will be assigned PDC affiliations by the Office of the Commissioner and the President of the Minor League Association.”
Mike Harrington took on the Buffalo Bisons’ – the Mets’ soon-to-be-former triple-A affiliate – attendance in the Buffalo News over the weekend.
The most important point as far as I’m concerned is that Bisons attendance has been falling fairly steadily, since 1991. That’s over two decades of straight slipping. Some years, the declines are larger than others, but the declines are real and consistent.
You know what else has been declining in the last twenty one years? The Buffalo population, which is less than half of its 1950s peak. To be fair, the population of the other major Western New York cities like Syracuse and Rochester has been falling as well. Buffalo is a relatively poor city with a median household income of $30,043 as of the last census, well below the New York State median of $55,603. Perhaps more damning, 30% of Buffalo lived below the poverty level.
Of course, a declining city population and a poorer city are linked phenomenon. As people with the means to do so move out, the existing population becomes poorer. Then, once housing prices fall, in response to weak demand, the migrants into an area become, on average, poorer. This is nicely discussed over a lengthier time horizon for Buffalo here.
So, there are fewer people in Buffalo nearly every year, and the population that remains, is by New York standards, poor.
This is not a good environment for any business, especially one, such as a sports team that relies on citizens spending their disposable income.
Harringon believes that the Bisons’ likely pending affiliation with the Jays will help, but that ”If the Bisons want to capitalize on 2013, they have to get back to baseball.”
I would argue that much of the success of minor league baseball in the last 20 years has been due to the reverse: there really is something for everyone at a game. Just about every stadium boasts a kids’ play area, which in some cases are extremely elaborate. And for the adults: solid food and beer that’s generally cheaper than in big league parks. The average minor league fan not only cannot name more than a handful of players on their own hometown team, but knows virtually nothing about the team’s opponents. In my experience, fans go to minor league games for good times with friends and family (or if the company is having a picnic) but not necessarily for the baseball. Real baseball fans stay home to watch their team, and all of the out-of-market games on high-def on their TV, ipads, laptops and everything else.
Harrington’s concrete suggestions:
More Baseball/Honor the Past
- Honor the great Buffalo teams and players of the past with large colorful concourse banners
- Put up the team’s championship banners
- Use the videoboard for “old clips of Bisons’ historical moments”
- “Publications needs to be upgraded (sic)… People will pay for a quality game program”
Color banners of the team’s history are a good call. They are relatively cheap and really do improve a stadium space.
More history on the video board is good, but I wonder how much old footage the Bisons have. Footage archives of even MLB teams are shaky. Only in the last few years, has hard drive storage reached a point where archiving everything is almost costless. Either way, this seems unlikely to bring fans to the park on a random Tuesday night.
Finally: publications. Fact: people do not pay for a quality game program. Many teams have stopped producing one because they were simply losing money on the product. Many teams now distribute a smaller program free of charge at the gate. Even for the teams that continue to sell a larger book-type program, it is not a major revenue source and most assuredly will not bring more fans back to the ballpark.
- Add line score via a new auxiliary scoreboard
- Add new seats. Replace some seats with new party decks/group areas
- Better lighting in fan areas
- Other: fix the bathroom sinks, add flat screen tvs at the concession stands, in-park wifi
This is all worthwhile stuff. The better a stadium looks and functions, the more fans are willing to come back. Of course, it all costs money too.
- Eliminate a $1 day of game ticket surcharge
- Move season seat holders from section 102 (right behind home plate to avoid empty seats on TV)
- Add Blue Jays gear to the team’s merchandise stand
Wait, you want to take the best seats away from season seat holders to avoid empty seats on TV and online streaming? Cart meet horse. Horse, pull cart.
Mike makes some reasonable suggestions. Touching up the stadium and making a more aesthetically appealing place is a really good idea. However, I suspect that even implementing all of his ideas, would result in a negligible effect on attendance.
The bottom line though is that the Bisons, and all of the Western New York teams, are facing a bad demographic environment. That unfortunately, is not anything the teams control.
Given what they can control, I suggest taking a long, hard look at price. For example, create promotional nights that offer not good value, but great value. In Savannah, the Sand Gnats’ biggest nights are Fireworks on Saturday, followed by Thirsty Thursday (2-for-1 drinks) and Dollar Monday ($1 tickets with coupon, $1 hot dogs, $1 sodas, $1 small Nattys).
The Mets are one step closer to placing their AAA baseball team in Las Vegas for at least the next two years.
Tuesday, the Houston Astros and the Oklahoma City Redhawks extended their PDC for two more years, while the Nashville Sounds and the Milwaukee Brewers did the same. The Marlins and New Orleans Zephyrs already extended their relationship through 2014.
There are only four AAA teams without a PDC for 2013: Buffalo, Las Vegas, Memphis and Tucson. Memphis is Cardinals’ country and a lock to resign with St. Louis. Tucson is a Padres affiliate, and surely will resign. That leaves the Blue Jays and Mets on the Major League side and the Bisons and Las Vegas 51s on the AAA side. At least the 51s have a sweet new logo (pictured at right).
The New York Mets and the Binghamton Mets have announced a four-year extension to the player development contract that will run through the 2016 season.
There had been rumors that the Binghamton team was going to be sold and moved to Ottowa. That seems unlikelier now.
Binghamton is last in the Eastern League in attendance, drawing 2,888 fans per night the AA Eastern League where six teams average over 5,000 per night and eight of the 12 teams pull in over 4,000.
The Mets also have expiring PDCs in Savannah and Buffalo.
In 2012, the Buffalo Bisons are averaging a franchise-worst 6,992 fans per game. It is the first time the team has been below 7,000 in the 25 years of Coca-Cola Field. Do not blame the Mets.
Rather, this disappointing result, down from a high of 17,235 per game back in 1991, is the culmination of a slide that has lasted over two decades. That’s average attendance on the y-axis matched by year on the x-axis.
The uncomfortable truth for Buffalo is that the team’s attendance was way down from their late-80s and early 90s highs even before the Mets arrived in 2009.
There have been good years and bad years, but since the ballpark opened, the Bisons’ attendance has declined by an average of 3.8% over the previous year. Just seven times in 24 tries has the team increased their attendance on the previous season. One of those cases came in 2010, in the second year as a Mets’ affiliate. Perhaps the fans were responding a little bit to a better team on the field, as the 2010 team finished 76-68, a far cry from 2009′s miserable 56-87.
The role of that 2009 team, the Mets first in Buffalo deserves a brief examination. Bisons’ attendance was more or less flat in the middle years of the last decade as the team averaged between 8,768 and 8,947 fans from 2004 through 2008 in the final five years as a Cleveland affiliate. However, when the Mets put their first clunker of a team in Buffalo in 2009, attendance declined 8.9% on average versus 2008, the third largest annualized decline in Coca-Cola Field. One plausible theory is that the 2009 team soured Buffalo the town, and Buffalo the organization on the Mets. However, I find that theory incomplete at best. First, as Jess G. pointed out on Twitter, that the economic crisis of 2008 surely had a carryover into attendance in 2009. Second, the relationship between winning and attendance is very, very weak. In the final three years of their player development contract, the Mets did a much better job stocking Buffalo with AAA veterans along the lines of Valentino Pascucci, Matt Tuiasosopo and Fred Lewis on the position side.
Winning and Attendance
How weak is the relationship between winning and attendance in minor league baseball? Lets examine Buffalo.
Winning percentage is on the x-axis and attendance per game is on the y-axis. What’s happening here? Not much. There’s a weak positive correlation between a team’s winning percentage and that year’s attendance, but nothing that would sustain the argument that a winning team on the field will put more fans in the seats that summer.
The Bisons might be more interested in a stronger regional affiliation with the Jays. It is under two hours from Coca-Cola Field to Rogers Centre without traffic whereas it is almost seven to drive to Citi Field. Few New Yorkers were spending 14 hours to drive roundtrip to Buffalo. How many Torontans will spend the roughly four hours to drive round-trip to Buffalo? That’s a more palatable weekend trip for a baseball junkie. So probably a few more, but I would expect a negligible increase in the grand scheme of team attendance – hardly enough to off-set the Bisons’ two-decade attendance slide.
Toronto has a strong farm system. Coming into the year, Baseball America had them ranked #5 in the game, while ESPN.com had them at #3. Writing at Baseball Prospectus, Kevin Goldstein said before the season that “Some elite position players and a cadre of young high-ceiling pitchers make Toronto the envy of every team in baseball.”
The Blue Jays, over their current PDC setup in Las Vegas, have finished over .500 once in four tries. This year for example, in that highly touted Jays system, the AAA team in Las Vegas is 73-55, while the double-A team in 53-74. Both of the a-ball teams in Lansing and Dunedin own winning percentages over .580. Las Vegas finished two games under .500 in 2011 while New Hampshire was 12-over. Moving back to 2010, Vegas was 12-games under .500, while New Hampshire was 17 over. In 2009, Vegas was two games under, while New Hampshire was 14 games under.
In choosing Toronto over New York, the Bisons will leave the US’ largest media market for Canada’s and the New York City metro area of over 18 million people for the Toronto metro area of almost 6 million people. For what it’s worth, even with the Mets own attendance slide, the Mets are still out drawing the Jays 29,487 to 27,851 per game this year.
A good farm system does not automatically translate into winning records for affiliates, nor do winning records do not translated into attendance jumps for the affiliates.
This move cannot be about winning and losing games for the Bisons. Instead, it could be about geography and relationships.
Wally Backman, as quoted by the Buffalo News’ Mike Harrington after the Bisons finished up with the Pawtucket Red Sox on Sunday:
“It’s a shame for us, really. Buffalo is a great city but I don’t envision us coming back, from the things I’ve heard from the grapevine.”
Again, after last Friday’s news that the Rochester Red Wings will reupp with the Minnesota Twins, Buffalo is the only International League team with an expiring Player Development Contract. If the Mets cannot mend their relationship with the Bisons in the next few weeks, they will be Pacific Coast League bound.
There’s a sense in which it is surprising to hear Wally Backman become the first Mets person to speak definitively on the topic. He was answering a question from Harrington honestly, but I wonder how that will play among his bosses.
To answer something that popped up in the comment section again on Friday, it’s not like the Mets can just promote the Brooklyn Cyclones to AAA status. There are only 30 businesses in America licensed to run AAA teams, 14 in the International League and 16 in the Pacific Coast League. All 30 of those AAA teams are guaranteed a player development contract with a big league affiliate.
Player development contracts are signed in two or four-year increments only.
The Mets could, in theory, buy a part of a AAA team in the International League, as the Yankees have done with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre or the Braves did with the Richmond franchise to facilitate a move to Gwinnett in the northern Atlanta suburbs. However, that’s just not going to happen any time soon. The existing International League teams are largely stable, and the Mets would need the Yankees consent to move a AAA team into the New York tri-state area. The Mets refused the Yankees request to allow the SWB Yankees to play in Newark for 2012 while their stadium was renovated, forcing the team into a full summer on the road so it seems unlikely the Yankees would be in any mode to do the Mets any favors on the affiliate front.
So again, it’s Buffalo or a two-year trip to the PCL for the Mets. The PCL is looking likelier and likelier.
Friday, Jim Madelaro in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle reported that the Twins and Red Wings will sign a new Player Development Contract that will cover the 2013 and 2014 baseball season.
In an accompanying opinion piece, Mandalaro writes that this was the logical move for Rochester, “But the “best” club that figures to be available is the Mets, and they’re about to get kicked out of Buffalo after getting ejected from Norfolk and New Orleans. Wings officials are wary about hitching their wagon to the Mets, and I don’t blame them.” He’s right on two of the three counts. The Mets were thrilled to leave New Orleans for Buffalo, but yes, the other two affiliations with International Leagues were ended by the affiliate and not the Mets.
That leaves one pair of Major League-International League team pairing without a contract for 2013: the New York Mets and the Buffalo Bisons. The Mets and Bisons could still each decide that they want to renew, but the decision has to be mutual. The Bisons must want the Mets in addition to the Mets wanting to stay in Buffalo.
If the Bisons decide to cast their lot with another major league team – the Blue Jays are the obvious choice – based on the cities’ geographic proximity and the Jays strong farm system, the Mets will be forced into an affiliation in the Pacific Coast League. The Blue Jays have been affiliated with the Las Vegas 51s, so Vegas will be open. Vegas is just an awful place to develop pitching. The ball flies and the infield baked into a hard surface. Las Vegas as a team this year, is hitting .304/.371/.456 in a PCL that averages .279/.346/.432. At home, the 51s have hit .313/.386/.487. Yikes.
According to Baseball America, Memphis (St. Louis), Nashville (Milwaukee), New Orleans (Miami), Oklahoma City (Houston) and Tucson (San Diego) are also without new PDC contracts for 2013 yet. Memphis and St. Louis have a strong relationship and seem unlikely to split. Nashville, with a new ballpark likely on the way, and in the central time zone, is the prize of the remaining options. The Mets have a relationship with New Orleans having played there in 2007 and 2008. Zephyrs Field is one of the more pitcher-friendly parks in the Pacific Coast League. If New Orleans would be willing to engage with the Mets again on a short-term basis, that would be the best fit.
Moving back to the PCL is logistically more difficult for the Mets. Need a player? Ok, but he’s in Fresno. The travel for team staff to see the AAA would become significantly more arduous. Oh, and Las Vegas is a wonderful place to put up offensive numbers but a bad, bad place to pitch.