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New PBA deal restores order to minors' statistics
by Will Lingo
The number of minor league affiliates will remain the same, the ticket tax for minor league teams will continue to go up, but most important, our one-year statistics experiment is over.
Those are the highlights from the new Professional Baseball Agreement, which was expected to be approved by a mail vote before the beginning of the Winter Meetings in Anaheim.
As expected, one of the main provisions of the deal is a gradual increase in the ticket tax over the life of the PBA, which could stretch through the 2014 season but more likely will go through 2008. The tax, which requires minor league teams to pay a portion of their ticket sales revenue to Major League Baseball, came into being in the 1990 renewal of the PBA, as a way for minor league teams to help bear the cost of player development. It has gradually increased to the current 4.5 percent, and it will move up to 5 percent next year. If the agreement runs its full term, the rate will top out at 7 percent.
Minor League Baseball has agreed to pay higher ticket taxes in recent years in exchange for the guarantee of continued affiliations for all of its current teams. That remains the case in the new agreement, with the major leagues agreeing to supply players for 160 teams for the life of the deal.
Another interesting aspect of the deal will feature Major League Baseball working with minor league teams to establish national marketing and television programs. MLB helped the minors establish a national licensing program over the last decade and it has been tremendously successful, and the minors hope this arrangement follows a similar path.
The most significant part involves the cable channel MLB is developing. Through the agreement, minor league teams will now provide video feeds to MLB for use as live or taped programming on the Baseball Channel.
Probability Of Problems
But let's be honest. For those of us who follow the minor leagues day by day, the heading we immediately went to in the new PBA is the one that read, "Statistics".
For those of you who missed it, Minor League Baseball agreed about this time last year to hand over the duties as official minor league statistician to a different company. SportsTicker (formerly known as Howe Sportsdata) was out, and The Sports Network was in. If you want to rehash the mechanics of how this all happened, refer to my column from the Dec. 8-21, 2003, issue of BA. In it, you'll find several ominous quotes from minor league officials who weren't sure what to make of a new company suddenly taking over the minor league stat business.
There's no point in speaking harshly about how things turned out for the 2004 season, and there's no point now in trying to determine what got messed up and who's to blame. We'll have plenty of time for that later.
What is important is that 2004 was a mess, if only because The Sports Network had a contract with Minor League Baseball, while SportsTicker had a separate contract with Major League Baseball. And Sports Network covered most leagues, but SportsTicker covered the complex leagues, independent leagues and some winter leagues.
Again, the details are unimportant, but it was a disaster. You noticed it if you came to our site. There were different sources for stats, and they often had different numbers. At the end of the season, Sports Network had Wilmington's Trae McGill listed as the Carolina League ERA leader, while SportsTicker listed Winston-Salem's Sean Tracey. Sports Network gave the Florida State League batting crown to Fort Myers' Danny Matienzo, while SportsTicker had Tampa's Tommy Winrow on top.
We weren't the only ones who noticed, apparently.
The new PBA makes clear that MLB, and MLB alone, is now responsible for minor league statistics. The agreement says the commissioner "shall designate the sole official statistician" for the minors, and that minor league teams "shall cooperate with the official statistician."
"Each club shall provide credentials allowing access without charge to the press boxes . . . to statisticians of the major leagues' choosing," the agreement says.
Minor League Baseball ordered its teams not to send game reports to SportsTicker last year, and not to allow SportsTicker representatives into the press box to collect statistics. So even though SportsTicker had a deal with MLB, it was unable to fulfill the contract because it couldn't collect the data.
If Minor League Baseball saw that as an opportunity to throw its weight around, MLB answered in kind, taking away control of minor league stats entirely.
Minor League Baseball at least gets to save face a bit because stats will now be provided for free to the minor leagues. But it's clear MLB didn't like the way things were handled last year.
It's not spelled out in the agreement, but the summary provided to clubs says MLB Advanced Media will administer the stats package, though it may not do the actual collection of the numbers.
Again, those details aren't important right now. What is important is that we seem to have a document that will bring order to a situation that was fraught with chaos in 2004.
You can contact Will Lingo by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.