This week, the Columbia, SC City Council approved a $47,000 feasibility study for a new minor league ballpark by a 5-2 vote. This is merely the next step in a process that became public this past summer to return minor league baseball to South Carolina’s capital.
The planned new stadium in Columbia is supposed to help anchor the new Bull Street Development which is being planned and built on a 165 acre parcel that used to house an insane asylum.
This hardly guarantees that the Savannah Sand Gnats will move to Columbia, but it moves one step closer to Columbia building a stadium for a team. The Mets’ contract with Savannah is up at the end of the 2014 season, as well. If the Gnats do indeed move to Columbia, it might not be as a Mets affiliate.
On the other hand, remember, not all rumors come to pass. The Binghamton Mets were supposedly on their way to Ottawa last November.
Toby Hyde, Mets Minor League Blog:
Friday afternoon, the Pacific Coast League announced
that with the Tucson Padres heading to El Paso, the League will realign for the 2014 season.
The Mets AAA affiliate, at least for one more year, through the 2014 season, will be the Las Vegas 51s.
Here are the new four-team divisions.
Pacific Northern (Blue): Fresno, Reno, Sacramento, Tacoma
Pacific Southern (Green): Albuquerque, El Paso, Las Vegas, Salt Lake
American Northern (Baby Blue): Colorado Springs, Iowa, Oklahoma City, Omaha
American Southern (Yellow): Memphis, Nashville, New Orleans, Round Rock
Here, lets put this on a map for everyone.
And what do you notice? This makes sense. The PCL created four divisions that work. That’s right, I can draw them with non-overlapping shapes. This works.
Oh, sure, you can quibble. For example, one might argue that the two Tennessee teams, Memphis and Nashville, should be in a division with Iowa (in Des Moines) and Omaha to make the PCL American East. And then New Oleans, Round Rock, Oklahoma City and Colorado Springs would form the American Conference West. That would work too. However, in that scenario, there would be larger distances within a division. New Orleans would be farther from division-mate Colorado Springs than any of their 2014 actual division rivals.
Often sports leagues and franchise make decisions that are hard to understand. (Hi, MLB’s unnecessarily complicated replay system.) This is not one of them. This was simple. This was rational. A bunch of people looked at a map, and put tother conferences and divisions that work to minimize travel times and costs in a sprawling league with way too much time spent on buses, planes and airports.
Good job PCL.
There is a chance that the Savannah Sand Gnats baseball team could move to Columbia, SC for the 2015 season.
This round of stories started with Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin who talked to the State newspaper. As the State reports,
Mayor Steve Benjamin says he is in serious talks with a minor league baseball owner to bring a team to Columbia and could present a stadium funding proposal to City Council as early as this fall.
Benjamin told The State he plans to visit later this month a stadium that the undisclosed owner has built in the Midwest. It and its public/private funding model could serve as a template for a new stadium here, he said.
Ballpark Digest connected the dots and figured out that Benjamin is talking about the Gnats because the Gnats’ ownership group built a new stadium in Fort Wayne, IN, the beautiful Parkview Field.
WSAV’s Ken Slats spoke to Hardball Capital CEO Jason Freier, who did work to convince Savannah to help build a new ballpark. In 2011, Freier took key Savannah politicians, business leaders and media to Indiana to show them the new facility in Fort Wayne. However as Freier explained to Slats, “It would be fair to say that we have not received a lot of followup since then. Any attempts to move that project forward have not gone anyplace. We’re told not because of any negative feelings about our proposed project, but because the city has lots of things they need to do and lots of priorities.
There’s a follow up from Slats here.
In the Savannah Morning News, Savannah city spokeman Bret Bell says of Hardball Capital, “They had made it very clear they wanted a new stadium.” Meanwhile, the Morning News reports that “The city has not ruled out the idea of a multi-use stadium, but staff and council are now focused on getting a new arena built to replace the Civic Center, Bell said.” And in fact, in the very same paper, there was a story about Council officials touring potential arena sites.
Lets be clear. There are many things that have to happen before Hardball Capital begins operating a South Atlantic League team in Columbia, SC. Just because one town, or the politicians in that town, wants affiliated baseball, does not mean they get their wish. Think all the way back to last November, when the Binghamton Mets were rumored to be moving to Ottowa. However, it seems as though it is real possibility that there will be SAL baseball in Columbia and not Savannah in 2015 with many pieces to fit into place in a hurry.
As far as the Mets are concerned, their PDC with the Gnats expires at the end of the 2014 season, just like the Gnats’ stadium lease with Savannah. A new stadium in Columbia would be very attractive for the Mets and many other teams. The Mets had a SAL affiliate in Columbia, SC from 1983 through 2004 first as the Columbia Mets (1983-1992) and then the Capital City Bombers (1993-2004), who had this awesome logo.
(Full disclosure: I still call games for the Sand Gnats. All information in this post comes from publicly available news stories.)
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.