Though the annual gathering of the baseball industry may have a National Lampoon-theme when it descends upon Las Vegas next week, there is still plenty of business to be addressed.
As always, the minor league affairs don’t generate the same headlines as rumors swirling about potential free agent signings. But here are a few topics that will be discussed among minor league officials at league meetings and in the lobby of the Las Vegas Hilton (the big leaguers are staying at the Bellagio).
In our current issue, I wrote about how the current economic crisis might impact minor league teams next season. The general consensus around the industry is that the minors are well positioned to withstand a recession because it is such an affordable entertainment option (average ticket prices are less than the movies). However few believed the minors will be unscathed (corporate partnerships, particularly with financial and automotive companies, are likely to be down next year) and ways teams can deal with the current climate is certainly to be the hot topic in Vegas.
"There will be a lot of discussion about the economy and how it will affect the industry and ways we can work together to deal with the economy," Minor League Baseball chief operating officer Tim Purpura said Friday morning. "The economy is a major issue for us, one of the biggest challenges we have faced in some time at the minor league level. That being said, we also feel good about the future and I think we will go about our work as usual . . . and get ready for a strong 2009."
Internet Rights Deal
Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner hopes to finalize the very complicated deal of placing every teams’ Websites under the singular umbrella of Major League Baseball Advanced Media. O’Conner said in an interview last month that he hopes to meet face-to-face with several teams and finalize the deal that would unify teams’ ticketing, advertising and marketing online.
"It is going to happen," O’Conner said.
O’Conner said the varied level of sophistication of teams’ online presence has been one of the reasons the deal has yet to be finalized. Getting teams to understand just what MLBAM has to offer is a goal for the Winter Meetings, as well as their understanding the overall benefit to the sport.
"The power of one, bundled right, across the board," O’Conner said. "If you add up what 160 clubs can do on their own it pales compared to what we can do together. We’re able to match what teams are doing from a technology standpoint."
The Triple-A Pacific Coast League should be one of the few circuits with a busy slate of issues to tackle. League president Branch Rickey III said the top priority is dealing with the sale of the Nashville Sounds from owner Al Gordon, whose tenure has included disputes with city officials over a new ballpark, to a group of New York-based investors.
Complicating the deal, Rickey said, is the fact that the Sounds do not yet have a lease to play at Herschel Greer Stadium for 2009. The team had banked on moving into a new ballpark, but plans for that fell apart in 2007. As a result, the team’s lack of investing into updating its current home has caused much of the riff between the two sides, the Nashville City Paper reported.
Regardless, Rickey is confident that a deal can be worked out that will please both sides in time for Opening Day. Where the team would play if such a deal cannot be reached was not clear.
"We’re operating in a gray area and we need to get it solved and put everyone at ease," Rickey said earlier this week. "It will take a little level of grease. One thing I am impressed with is the mayor of Nashville (Karl Dean) has been straightforward and candid. He is just as desirous as I am and the Nashville Sounds are in having a positive solution to this. Where there are those kinds of attitudes existing there are solutions that can be envisioned."
The league still needs to approve the sale of the team, and Rickey feels a change in ownership could ease lease negotiations.
* Bakersfield’s Future
High Class A Bakersfield will stay put in 2009 despite discussions to relocate the team, and a fellow California League affiliate, to the Carolina League. Blaze owner D.G. Elmore said little progress has been made on the team’s relocation but that their long-term future is not in Bakersfield.
"We’re in a state of limbo," Elmore said. "I fully expect that we will be moving, but the details are rather murky. We will have some meetings next week in Vegas and that might bring out some more details."
Elmore said the plan still centers around relocating to the Carolina League, though no location has been determined.
"It’s unlikely we would move to another location in the Cal League," Elmore said. "The plan is to move to the Carolina League. Obviously they have to find locations, and people are working on that."
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