Upgrades Required: MLB Proposes Stricter Minor League Facility Standards
Long before Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball held their initial negotiations for a new Professional Baseball Agreement, there were expectations that any new agreement would contain updates to MiLB’s facility standards.
Those expectations are now reality. Minor league teams have now received MLB’s proposed revised facility standards. In large part, they are what most everyone expected—larger clubhouses, brighter stadium lights, covered batting and pitching tunnels and other details that will take minor league facilities into the 2020s and beyond.
While many of these new standards were expected, the cost to bring existing facilities up to MLB’s desired standards will be quite high.
These are only proposals, so it is possible that the requirements could be altered, but MLB laid out that most minor league teams would be required to make significant upgrades.
The standards for minor league facilities have not been significantly altered in years, and in many cases they are largely the same standards that were adopted in the 1990 PBA.
Under MLB’s proposed revisions, minor league clubhouses will get bigger. Both home and visitor’s clubhouses are supposed to be 1,000 square feet or larger in MLB’s initial proposal.
Separate food preparation and eating areas will become a requirement for both home and visiting teams under the proposal, as well. For the first time, teams will be required to provide locker rooms for female staffers. Teams would also be required to have weight rooms.
Training room requirements will be expanded and minor league teams must provide year-round, lockable storage for MLB teams.
The batter’s-eye dimensions in center field have also been expanded. Teams will now be required to have two all-weather hitting and pitching tunnels with power outlets and available Wi-Fi for training.
MLB’s proposal brings all minor league teams to the lighting standards—100-foot candles of lighting on the infield and 70-foot candles in the outfield—that had previously been the Double-A and Triple-A requirement.
For facilities in need of significant lighting upgrades, LED lights will be required. A team that can meet the lighting standard without significant upgrades can continue to use incandescent lights.
At the lower levels of the minors, these requirements will likely be a windfall for lighting companies. Very few Class A facilities come close to meeting the proposed standards, and most will likely need to completely replace and upgrade their lighting.
Under MLB’s proposal, minor league facilities will be docked points for each standard it fails to meet. Violations will range from 1-10 points per standard missed. Teams will have time to rectify these issues, but if they remain above the maximum points allowed—which is expected to be 15 points—beyond that timeframe, their professional development licenses could be at risk.
Very few facilities currently meet enough of the proposed standards to remain below the points threshold. The locker room for female staff by itself is worth 10 points and puts almost every minor league team two-thirds of the way to non-compliance.
Teams in the lower levels of the minors generally have more work to do to get into compliance than Double-A and Triple-A teams because the previous standards for the upper levels of the minors were closer to the new requirements.
The biggest issues will likely be the increased square footage requirements for visiting clubhouse, food preparation and training rooms. Some teams in above-ground facilities would be able to expand their clubhouses and training facilities by simply bumping out some walls and expanding existing facilities. Others may have issues if they are on smaller footprints with less room for expansion.
But for facilities with below-ground clubhouses dug below the stadium stands, significant expansion could be very costly.
Multiple minor league owners noted that while MLB’s proposed standards for the minors would require teams to have visitor’s clubhouses as big as the requirement for home clubhouses, such standards are not required for MLB stadiums.
More than one minor league owner wondered if it would be possible that a team could decline a spot among the 120 remaining affiliated teams because they could see the new facility standards as simply too costly to meet.
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Many of the same concerns about the difficulty of meeting facility standards were raised in 1990 when the new PBA necessitated that minor league teams significantly upgrade their stadiums to meet new requirements.
At the time, some minor league owners feared the increased requirements would lead to the death of the minors.
Some teams bumped out walls and made other upgrades to meet standards. Many others ended up building new stadiums to replace facilities that had often been built in the 1930s. That led to a boom in minor league attendance as fans quickly found the new facilities vastly more appealing for a night out at the ballpark.
Now, many of those same stadiums that were built in the 1990s to meet increased standards are far below the standards that will be expected going forward. That will leave teams having to decide whether it’s possible to upgrade.
Some minor league owners noted teams in older stadiums may have fewer issues than teams in newer facilities. Their point was that it might be easier to get municipal help to contribute to upgrades for a paid-off facility built decades ago than it will be for newer stadiums still being paid off.
Those facilities built in the 2010s in many cases seemed state-of-the-art, but now very few of them meet the standards MLB is proposing for 2021 and beyond.