NASHVILLE—Just four years ago, Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner kicked off the Winter Meetings in Las Vegas by urging his constituents to come together as a group and approve the plan to bring every team’s Web properties under the umbrella of Major League Baseball Advanced Media.
The Baseball Internet Rights Co, which was approved that week and launched before the start of the 2009 season, appears to have validated O’Conner’s theory that the minor leagues could attract bigger and better advertisers working as one. With all but a handful of teams on board, BIRCO announced its first profitable year following the 2011 season.
O’Conner is again asking the minors to come together, this time to create an industry-wide marketing program that he predicts will attract the major corporate sponsors that MiLB has failed to land under its 20-year-old group marketing program. O’Conner announced the new marketing program—which he called Project Brand: 160 teams, one brand—and the committee of minor league executives that spent the past seven months crafting it, during the Winter Meetings opening session yesterday at the Opryland Hotel.
“As we celebrate 20 years of our national marketing program, we realize the program has served us well and accomplished things no one thought would ever be accomplished,” O’Conner said to a ballroom full of minor league owners and executives. “But we also realize we have built a brand over the last 20 years worthy of much more. The current program is effective, but lacks the resources and organizational commitment to efficiently serve this powerful brand. We owe the brand more. We owe ourselves more. It is time for a change.”
NASHVILLE–At the Winter Meetings, minor league teams typically fill out their front offices with fresh-faced job seekers eager to break into baseball. However, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans (Carolina) arrived at this year’s event at the Opryland Hotel with more serious business to tackle, like finding a new general manager.
Scott Brown left his post in Myrtle Beach last week after three seasons to take over as general manager of baseball operations for the Charlotte Knights (International), who are adding depth to their front office while preparing for life in a new ballpark. Brown takes over for veteran GM Dan Rajkowski, who was promoted to vice president/chief operating officer and will oversee the team’s transition from Knights Stadium—their home for the past 19 years, about 20 minutes south of town in Fort Mill, S.C.—to a new $54 million downtown Charlotte ballpark set to debut on Opening Day 2014.
“It’s certainly bittersweet; I love the beach. But this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Brown told the Myrtle Beach Sun News. “I think it’s the most exciting stadium project in our industry. I had a chance to walk the site and I think it’s going to be phenomenal. I don’t think there’s a better combination of stadium and city in Triple-A baseball.”
DALLAS–There was more humor than drama during Minor League Baseball’s presidential election, as Pat O’Conner was unanimously elected to a second four-year term by the sport’s league presidents.
O’Conner, who was running unopposed as the Board of Trustees lone candidate, received dramatic votes of confidence during the roll call from Eastern League president Joe McEacharn, Pioneer League president Jim McCurdy and Texas League president Tom Kayser. “The greatest league in all of minor league baseball votes for Pat O’Conner,” Kayser bellowed.
In the end, O’Conner received a standing ovation before thanking everyone in attendance for their “confidence in my ability to advance this organization.”
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DALLAS–The Rochester Red Wings have a bit of experience operating more than one team at a time. After all, the organization just completed its fourth season running the New York-Penn League’s Batavia franchise, saving Muckdogs from bankruptcy after the 2007 season.
Rochester will up the ante in 2012 when it serves as the main home away from home for fellow International League franchise Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, which is set to play its entire home schedule on the road while its home ballpark gets a $40 million rebuild.
The SWB Yankees will play 37 of their “home” games at Frontier Field in Rochester, plus another seven in Batavia. Scranton will split its remaining games among four other International League parks.
Red Wings chairman Gary Larder said Rochester is busy preparing for life as a two-team town in 2012. To accommodate the Yankees, the Red Wings are converting their visitors clubhouse into a second home for Scranton, and they’ll use the smaller staff locker room as the visitors clubhouse. The new visitors clubhouse will be a bit small, Larder said, but it was the best alternative as the team helps Scranton out of a tough situation.
Rochester is paying for the renovations, and it will cover the expenses for all of its Scranton games, as well reaping all of the revenue from those games. It’s a risky proposition, Larder said, but one he believes has the potential to be profitable.
“If we draw 800 fans a night, we’re in trouble,” he said. “But if we bring in a couple thousand we should make a profit.”
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DALLAS–Hundreds of minor league baseball operators crowded into an oversized conference room at the Anatole Hotel Monday morning to kick off the Winter Meetings by celebrating what made the sport so successful in 2011 amid challenging circumstances.
Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner, whose unopposed re-election bid will go to a vote on Wednesday afternoon, highlighted several of the highs from 2011, including: Minor League Baseball’s extension of the Professional Baseball Agreement with Major League Baseball, a new five-year collective bargaining agreement with the umpires union, overall attendance dipping just 0.5 percent as average attendance increased nearly 1 percent, and gross revenue going up about 5 percent in 2010 (the most recent year tabulated), with early indications that 2011 will see another increase.
“Our last 12 months have been filled with devastating and record-setting weather events, continuing economic hardship in our communities, high unemployment, socio-economic issues with health care and government intervention, a jittery Wall Street and gridlocked Washington,” O’Conner said. “Despite these issues, our clubs continue the good work that is minor league baseball . . .
“As we look back on the past few seasons, we can look back on remarkable progress as an organization. Now is not the time to rest on these accomplishments, but use them as the springboard to bigger and better things as a group . . . Together we have accomplished much. Together we will accomplish much more.”
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Lake Buena Vista, Fla — The Baseball America booth sits at the front of the sprawling trade show in the Atlantic and Pacific Hall ballrooms at the Swan and Dolphin Resort here in Disney World.
The prime location, ahead of hundreds of other vendors hawking nearly anything you can find at a ballpark, means that at some point just about everyone attending the Winter Meetings passes by us. That gives me the opportunity to catch up with a variety of folks and hear some of the minor league news and scuttlebutt being discussed on the second day of the Winter Meetings.
Here are a few tidbits:
* There is some concern among team operators and league officials about the impact an expanded major league playoffs will have on the minor leagues. If Major League Baseball does in fact expand its playoffs in some fashion (perhaps as soon as 2012) and makes sure the postseason does not run into November, then an earlier start date to the season would be required in both the majors and minors — a prospect not particularly appealing to teams playing in cold-weather climates. The minor league season begins on the first Thursday following major league Opening Day and ends by or on Labor Day weekend (unless given approval to run longer).
The uncertainty over the future schedule has also proven a nuisance for some leagues, many of which try and plan their schedules several years in advance to allow teams to book non-baseball events during open dates on their schedule.
Commissioner Bud Selig is expected to discuss playoff expansion in meetings with league officials during the Winter Meetings.
* Plans for a completely renovated ballpark for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Yankees is moving forward. Funds for the $40 million project that should create "a virtually new facility," team president Kristen Rose said today, will come from a $20 million grant pledged by outgoing governor Ed Rendell and a local match from a variety of sources–including some proceeds of the $14.6 million sale of the publicly owned team to Mandalay Baseball.
Few details about the construction have been ironed out. The architecture firm Ewing Cole unveiled potential designs of the new ballpark last month and principal Craig Schmitt is on hand here at the Winter Meetings. Both he and Rose said the Yankees have not yet decided whether the construction would be done over one or two seasons–the former requiring the construction to be done during the 2011 and 2012 offseasons; the latter requiring the team to find temporary housing while construction is completed.
* Appalachian League president Lee Landers said the Rookie-level circuit's expanded playoff system was a hit and 'one of the best things we have done not only for the athletes but for the fans too." They certainly plan on continuing it in 2011.
The Blue Jays move into Bluefield has gone smoothly, receiving approval at the league's meeting today, though there has been some hangup on getting approval from the Blue Jays on using their logo.
Lake Buena Vista, Fla. — Minor League Baseball announced this afternoon that Tina Gust will become the first female vice president in the national association's 109-year history following her promotion to vp of business development.
Gust joined MILB in 1998 as an assistant in the organization's licensing department.
The move is part of a larger reorganization at MILB's St. Petersburg, Fla., headquarters, as the following changes were announced in a press release:
Scott Poley–Senior Vice President, Legal Affairs; Tim Brunswick–Vice President, Baseball & Business Operations; Brian Earle–Vice President, BIRCO & Business Services; Tina Gust–Vice President, Business Development; Rod Meadows–Vice President, Sales & Marketing; Steve Densa–Executive Director, Communications; Sandie Hebert–Director, Licensing; Scott Kravchuk—Director, Business Development; Noreen Brantner–Senior Assistant Director, Exhibition Services and Sponsorships; Kelly Butler—Senior Assistant Director, Event Services; Melissa Agee–Assistant Director, Sales & Marketing; Lou Brown–Assistant Director, Legal Affairs; Jill Rusinko—General Manager, Durham Athletic Park & MiLB Charities; Darryl Henderson—Coordinator, Affiliate Programs.
Lake Buena Vista, Fla – Pat O'Conner focused much of his opening session speech at the Winter Meetings focusing on the importance of relationships in each
Minor League Baseball is nearing an agreement that will extend the professional baseball agreement (PBA) with Major League Baseball six years through the 2020 season. The agreement that guides the relationship between the two organizations is set to expire in 2014, and its early extension is another example of what has become a harmonious partnership between MLB and MILB.
"I am proud to announce here today that we are diligently working toward an agreement with our friends at Major League Baseball to extend our agreement through the year 2020," O'Conner told a packed ballroom at the Swan and Dolphin Resort. "I am excited about the message that (it) sends to the sports world and the stability it offers to our membership. This is a historical agreement in many respects."
That notion was seconded by Jimmie Lee Solomon, MLB's executive vice president of baseball development who oversees the sport's relationship with the minors.
"This shows the kind of relationship that we have here," Solomon said later in the afternoon. "You have groups fighting in other sports, but we continue to work together . . . I consider Pat (O'Conner) one of my best friends. And I look around at a lot of owners in minor league baseball, and these are the people who I broke into the sport with."
Solomon would not offer details of the new agreement other than to say that there will be "no radical changes."
A source who requested anonymity said the only significant change will be on the tax rate minor league teams will pay major league clubs on ticket revenue. The rate was supposed to increase from 6.5 percent to 7 percent after the 2014 season, but will remain at 6.5 percent for an additional two years, the source said.
The new PBA still needs to be reviewed by commissioner Bud Selig, but Solomon said that he is confident the agreement, which is the result of "months and months of work," will be approved.
Meanwhile, Solomon said one of his goals for the Winter Meetings is to secure the opponent the Braves will be playing in next year's Civil Rights Game at Turner Field in Atlanta. The Braves will host the game for the next two seasons and Solomon expects to announce a date and opponent in mid-January.
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