MLB's New Proposed Travel Rules Could Prove Costly For Minor League Franchises
In addition to receiving proposed updated facility standards, Minor League Baseball teams have received from Major League Baseball proposed revisions to travel and scheduling. As expected, those revisions would improve the quality of life for players and coaches while likely increasing costs for minor league clubs.
Most significantly, minor league teams would be required to provide two buses for every road trip (up from one under previous rules). For any trip of 250 or more miles, one of the two buses must be a sleeper bus. That change would likely double the transportation costs for minor league teams, but it will also provide a significantly superior travel experience for players.
Another provision would likely cause some teams’ travel costs to climb significantly.
In MLB’s proposal, any trip farther than 350 miles would require that the team either travel by air or use a bus on an off day. Any trip of 550 miles or more must be by air and any Triple-A trip of 350 miles or more must also be a flight. There is an exception allowed for Triple-A teams to bus for trips of 350-550 miles if the MLB team agrees, there are no direct flights between the cities and the travel occurs on or before an off day.
Generally, a two-bus trip costs around $2,000-$2,500 a day. The same trip by air would likely run about $10,000, plus the additional costs of the bus for the trip to and from the airport to the team hotel and stadium.
In the Northwest League, the Spokane Indians are more than 350 miles from all but two other teams in the league and the Boise Hawks are more than 350 miles from all but one of the other teams in the league.
In the Midwest League, the Bowling Green Hot Rods are more than 350 miles from all but Dayton and Fort Wayne.
The league likely to be most affected is the Texas League. Midland and Amarillo are more than 350 miles from every opponent except each other. For Corpus Christi, every road trip is further than 350 miles.
MLB has also proposed any trip of 50 or more miles would require a hotel stay. Under previous rules, trips of 100 miles or less could be a commuter trip where the team busses to the game and returns home each night.
Among the proposal’s other notable provisions, MLB would retain the right to set the number of games in a season. The previously set number of 140 games was part of the Professional Baseball Agreement. There has been plenty of speculation that the Class A levels may play a reduced schedule, with some involved parties believing their seasons could be cut from 140 games to as few as 120.
For some minor league clubs in cold weather cities, losing early April dates would likely have very little financial impact. MLB teams would also likely prefer to keep their pitching prospects from throwing on sub-50 degree April nights.
But for clubs in warmer climates and teams that draw well, losing 10 home dates could be a significant financial hit. In Class A, a $20 per capita figure is a reasonable amount for what fans spend on tickets, concessions, souvenirs and all other items at a game. If a team is bringing an average of 1,500 fans through the gates for those early-season games, 10 lost dates could mean a $300,000 loss in direct revenue. It would also mean fewer games and fewer fans to promise to sponsors, which could lead to further indirect revenue losses.
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The proposal also states games on the final day of a series must start at 4 p.m. local time or earlier unless the two teams playing the game both have travel no more than 150 miles (by bus) or 550 miles (by plane) for the next day’s game. Teams must be given an off day every 15 days, up from one every 30 days right now.
Teams must receive the permission from both MLB clubs to play any games before 12 p.m. If MLB teams are unwilling to permit such games, that could be a significant setback for minor league clubs financially, as the 10-11 a.m. education days have proven to be a very successful model for turning otherwise poorly attended early-week games into well-attended games full of school-age kids. Later starts would make those games more difficult to pull off because many schools already leave the game during the sixth or seventh inning to make sure kids are back at school before the school day ends.
As MLB promised, teams are also expected to secure reasonably-priced housing for 33 players and staff at a hotel or apartment complex within 15 miles of their stadium. While minor league clubs will not be responsible for paying for the in-season housing, they will be responsible for acquiring it and, under the proposal, MLB will have the right of approval before the season begins.