The Minor League Baseball season was canceled on Tuesday.
There will be no Flying Squirrels games at The Diamond. No visits from the Sea Wolves or the Baysox or Flingo the Flamingo throwing out hot dogs.
It was a moment we knew that was coming, but that didn’t make it any easier.
I think I speak on behalf of the greater Richmond and Central Virginia area when I say it stinks.
It stinks for the players who have lost a year of their careers, and for some who may prematurely realize this is the end. It stinks for the numerous employees of the Flying Squirrels who have been or will be laid off, those who have been furloughed and others taking a reduction in salary.
It also stinks for those guest attendants, concession workers, the security team, and parking lot attendants, many whom rely on those 70 days and nights at The Diamond as much needed secondary income.
Last, but not least, it stinks for us.
It’s often said when a season ends, “At least there’s next year.” But for some towns, there won’t be.
MiLB had already been in a tough spot entering their final year of the Professional Baseball Agreement as news leaked last October that MLB had plans to contract 42 of the 160 minor league affiliated teams.
The reported listed of teams on the chopping block did not include the Flying Squirrels, and even though the impending changes could affect their team affiliation, their ownership group’s success and vision will help them weather the storm of 2020.
The same can’t be said for other organizations.
If there were 42 expendable teams in Major League Baseball’s eyes last fall, how many more additional teams could be fatally hit by the financial toll from the shutdown of the pandemic?
According to ESPN’s Buster Olney, MLB believes contraction could save around $60 million for teams.
$60 million sure sounds like a lot to you and I but that’s roughly $2 million saved per team, which Olney wrote “is tip money in an industry of $10 billion to $11 billion.”
To put $2 million in perspective around MLB, in a 162-game season Gerritt Cole is scheduled to make more than $1 million for each start with the Yankees, while Bryce Harper will collect an average of $45,000 per at bat. Even if you want to go rock bottom, the MLB veteran minimum salary is $563,500.
From a bottom line standpoint, it’s fair to see the view of smaller market owners that believe they are wasting money on too many players who will never even come close to sniffing the majors.
Yet, once again this is another prime example of what I wrote about a few weeks back, where MLB fails to see a bigger picture.
The average attendance in MLB has been on the decline for the past 12 years.
Could it possibly be the game has become less appealing to a younger audience? Might it be that the average MLB ticket in 2019 was $32?
In 2014, Team Marketing Report compared the cost for a day at MLB ballparks for a family of four if they had four mid-range tickets, two small beers, four small soft drinks, four regular hot dogs, parking for one car, two programs and two baseball caps.
The most expensive was the Boston Red Sox at $351 per family, while the least was the Arizona Diamondbacks ($127). Factor in inflation today and those are easily $25-$50 more per family.
The same package at the Flying Squirrels with lower bowl/front-row seats would cost you less than $100.
Where are you more likely to take young kids: on a 10-minute car ride to The Diamond or four hours up and back through I-95 and D.C. traffic for a Nationals game?
Are you really certain that you want to spend that type of money trying to entertain your young kids when there’s a good chance they’ll be bored by the fifth inning and you can’t even bribe them with postgame fireworks?
Yes, kids are there for the mascots, the ballpark treats, fireworks and the shenanigans on the field, but Minor League Baseball is smart enough to know that’s the hook to wanting them to come back, and every time they do or want to, you expose them to the game of baseball a little bit more with each visit.
That is the point that MLB commissioner Rob Manfred is missing in contracting minor league teams.
True, it may seem like wasted money on a player who might never hit Double-A.
But look at the bigger picture. There is no greater marketing tool for younger fans than actually getting to see games in person.
There might be 30 major league cities, but there are hundreds, even thousands of towns across America that are closer to a minor league ballpark.
Author and minor league radio broadcaster Josh Suchon wrote on social media: “What is Minor League Baseball? It’s the place where the fans don’t know the players but still want their autograph. It’s the place for first jobs for teenagers, first career jobs for college grads and last jobs for retired people.”
If you close minor league teams down, then you close down the exposure to the game for millions of fans.
Minor League Baseball will be missed in 2020. In 2021, it will be missing in even more places.
Maybe instead of focusing in on eliminating part of the game, Manfred and MLB should realize that Minor League Baseball might be more important now than ever.