Winter Meetings Kick Off With Minor Celebration

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.”

Up next for minor league leaders is likely extending Minor League Baseball’s relationship with Major League Baseball Advanced Media before the current three-year deal expires after the 2012 season. Three years ago, MiLB launched the Baseball Internet Rights Co., in which all but six minor league teams bundled their Websites under the umbrella of MLB Advanced Media to better market the industry as a whole.

BIRCO initially met with skepticism from some teams, and that likely grew after a challenging first two years. But O’Conner and MLB Advanced Media CEO Bob Bowman said BIRCO turned a profit in 2011.

Minor league officials believe teams will be supportive of extending the deal with MLBAM, and that the two sides will make few changes other than tweaks on technical issues relating to team Websites. Five teams have still yet to sign up with BIRCO, and Minor League Baseball plans to meet with them this week.

Minor League Baseball will also need to find a replacement for vice president/chief operating officer Tim Purpura, who accepted a job as the Rangers’ farm director just before the Winter Meetings. Purpura came to the minors in December 2007 after serving as farm director and then general manager of the Astros. Minor League Baseball plans to form a search committee for Purpura’s replacement.

One official believes having Purpura back in the big leagues will benefit the minors, as he will be able to share his perspective with other farm directors. “It’s a win-win for us,” he said.

Other Winter Meetings happenings:

• Reviewing plans for Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s season on the road is the main item on the International League’s agenda this week, IL president Randy Mobley said. The SWB Yankees will play their home games at the home parks of five IL franchises (Buffalo, Lehigh Valley, Pawtucket, Rochester and Syracuse) as well as the New York-Penn League’s Batavia team, which is operated by neighboring Rochester. The Yankees have yet to unveil plans for the new ballpark, designed by sports architecture firm Ewing Cole, that will replace the existing PNC Field.

• It has already been a big offseason for Goldklang Group executive Tyler Tumminia. Tumminia, who spent much of the fall as one of two women at MLB’s Scout School, was promoted to senior vice president, the group announced yesterday. Tumminia, who oversaw the launch of the “Be Your Own Fan” campaign at the group’s five ballparks, had served as vice president of marketing and operations. In her new role, Tumminia will “focus on strategic development of the brand with a more targeted external footprint,” the organization announced.