Territorial Followup (B-Mets, Ottawa, New Hampshire) and Weird Rules

This is a followup to Friday’s piece about the rumors that the B-Mets franchise might be sold and move to Ottawa.  Please start by reading that.

Friday’s piece did not spend very much time on it, but one thing that comes into play when teams start talking about moving around is territorial rights. Today’s piece focuses on territorial rights issues provoked by the chance that the Binghamton Mets might be bought, and move to Ottawa.

All affiliated teams Major and minor league teams have territorial rights, but they are hierarchical, so they are of unequal power. Major League teams hold territorial rights, preventing another team from moving to close to them, for a number of counties around their stadium. A triple-A franchise has territorial rights that would block fellow AAA franchises, double-A teams and on down, but not MLB teams.  Double-A teams’ rights don’t extend to AAA teams and MLB teams and on down the chain.

These are different than cable rights, and often get confused. The Baltimore Orioles held cable rights to Washington DC before Bud Selig bought them off with among other things, $75 million to help start MASN.  Territorial rights are narrower, but stronger. The San Francisco Giants hold territorial rights over Santa Clara - granted by the A’s in 1993 when the Giants were building the ballpark that became AT&T park.  The Mets and Yankees share territorial rights over New York City and the surrounding area.  This is important, we’ll come back to this.  The Boston Red Sox have territorial rights over the area around Boston.

I suggested that if the Binghamton Mets are indeed sold, and if they move to Ottawa, and if the new franchise hooks up with the Blue Jays in a sign of Canadian unity, the Mets could seek an affiliation with the current ‘Jays affiliate in Manchester, New Hampshire, the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. That’s wrong. The Mets can’t end up in New Hampshire.  Why?

The Red Sox waived their territorial rights to allow their own AAA team to exist in Pawtucket and for their AA team to exist in Portland, Maine.  Also, in a first, they waived their territorial rights to allow for another double-A team in Manchester, New Hampshire.  This franchise became the Fisher Cats.  However, the Red Sox demanded a number of concessions among them: 1. the New Hampshire franchise could never affiliate with a New York team and 2. the Red Sox could open a merchandise store on land adjacent to the stadium.  Note that the Fisher Cats’ owner Drew Webber, also owns the Lowell Spinners,  the Sox New York-Penn League affiliate. When the Red Sox allowed him to move his new double-A team (formerly the New Haven Ravens) into Manchester, NH, they were doing business with an old friend.

(thanks to reader MetsManiacinNH for pointing this out to me.)

That the Mets would be precluded from doing an affiliation deal in Manchester, NH is really not that big a loss.  New Britain, two hours away, would be the most convenient Eastern League destination to New York. Alternatively, Erie, PA currently a Pirates affiliate is under 100 miles and two hours from Buffalo, where the Mets have their AAA affiliate.

Commenters have also suggested a number of areas closer to New York City. Most of these are unfeasible because the Mets and Yankees share territorial control.  The Mets have sole control over Long Island, and have at times expressed some interest in having a full-season team on the Island. Nearly anywhere else, the Mets would have to negotiate with the Yankees.  Both teams decided a decade ago to put New York-Penn League teams in the city together (the Mets in Brooklyn and the Yankees in Staten Island).  More recently, the two have not played as well together.  Last fall, when the Yankees were looking for a temporary home for the Scranton Wilkes-Barre team for 2012, the Mets would not let them move to Newark for only the 2012 season.  Given this, do you think the Yankees would be inclined to grant the Mets permission to add a double-A team in their shared space without commensurate compensation?

Again, the Mets double-A team will be in Binghamton in 2012.  It might be in Binghamton beyond that time although that possibility looks increasingly remote. If the Mets’ AA team is not in Binghamton, they are not allowed to do a deal with the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. New Britain would be the best option, with Erie a more distant second-choice.

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