By Ken Reed
Minor league baseball teams, like millions of other small businesses in this country, are in trouble. Big trouble.
Unlike their Major League Baseball colleagues who typically get about half their revenue from media rights deals, minor league teams are almost exclusively reliant on ticket sales and in-stadium concession and merchandise revenues.
MLB teams could play without fans and still pull in a ton of revenue. (That said, MLB’s Arizona Plan, in which all games would be played in Arizona, primarily in spring training parks, or anything similar, seems totally unfeasible since it will only take one or two players contracting the COVID-19 virus on a given team to shut that team down for good. Then what, do they just drop out of the league? Is the World Series winner under the Arizona Plan the last team standing without a COVID-19 case on their roster or coaching staff?)
Minor league teams, on the other hand, simply don’t have anywhere near enough media dollars to survive without fans.
Minor league baseball grossed $864 million total for its 160 clubs last year. Operating expenses take 89% of that figure. Given approximately 12 home games a month, teams lose about 16% of their annual revenue with each month of lost games.
“Our entire business model is people coming to our stadium,” said Scott Hunsicker, GM of the Reading Fightin’ Phils.
“The concept of even playing a game in our stadium with no people is so far outside of our business model that it almost seems like a wasted effort to even ponder it.”
Yes, minor league teams can fight for some of the small business aid in the coronavirus stimulus package (although as of April 16, the money targeted for small businesses is already gone), but to survive this pandemic they are likely going to need help from their brethren in the Majors.
Revenue for Major League Baseball owners has skyrocketed during the past decade, due largely to dramatic increases in media income. According to Statista, a statistics website, Major League Baseball’s 30 teams generated around $9 billion in total revenue during the 2017 season, almost twice the revenue generated ten years prior, when total revenue was at $5.5 billion.
Moreover, MLB franchise values are also soaring. Strong revenue growth has had a large impact on the valuation of MLB franchises. By 2017, the average franchise value was estimated at $1.54 billion, a new high. Despite this strong financial picture, owners have traditionally refused to throw the minor leagues more than a few bones. Minor league player salaries have remained stagnant for a decade. And before the coronavirus pandemic hit, MLB owners were considering cutting 25% of minor league clubs, in order to stuff more money in their already overflowing pockets.
Many of the teams targeted for elimination have been stalwart cultural institutions in their towns for decades.
“Minor league baseball teams have had a major impact on small communities. These teams provide an enormous cultural and economic benefit to the communities they call home,” said Congressman David McKinley of West Virginia.
It’s true. Minor league baseball teams are part of Americana. And as long as Major League Baseball is enjoying the antitrust exemption our representatives have given them, they have a moral responsibility to do what’s best for all of baseball’s stakeholders in this country.
Major League Baseball owners need to climb up from behind their wallets and take a hard look at what’s best for the game in the big picture.
And that includes throwing a life raft to drowning minor league clubs in towns across the country.
— Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans
Sports Forum Podcast
Episode #32 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Prolific Author Joe Posnanski Joins the Show – Posnanski is one of America’s best sportswriters and has twice been named the best sports columnist in America by the Associated Press Sports Editors. We chat about his new book, “Why We Love Baseball,” his new Substack newsletter called Joe Blogs, and we cover topics including how baseball treats its fans, MLB’s numerous rule changes this past season, how the sport can become more fan-friendly, the greatness of Negro Leagues champion Buck O’Neil, and much more.
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Episode #31 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Foul Ball Safety Is Still an Important Issue at Ballparks – Our guests are Jordan Skopp, founder of FoulBallSafety.com and Greg Wilkowski, a Chicago based attorney. We discuss the historical problem of foul balls injuring fans and why some teams are still hesitant to put up protective netting in some minor league and college baseball parks.
Episode #30 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The State of College Athletics with Dr. David Ridpath: Problems and Potential Solutions – Ridpath is a sports administration professor at Ohio University and a member of The Drake Group, a college sports reform think tank.
Episode #29 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: The Honorable Tom McMillen Visits League of Fans’ Sports Forum – McMillen is a former All-American basketball player, Olympian, Rhodes Scholar and U.S. Congressman. We discuss the state of college athletics today.
Episode #28 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: A Chat With Mano Watsa, a Leading Basketball and Life Educator – Watsa is President of PGC Basketball, the largest education basketball camp in the world. We discuss problems in youth sports today.
Episode #27 – League of Fans’ Sports Forum podcast: Kids’ Sports: How We Can Take Back the Game and Restore Quality Family Time In the Process – Linda Flanagan is author of “Take Back the Game: How Money and Mania Are Ruining Kids’ Sports and Why It Matters.” We discuss how commercialized and professionalized youth sports are hurting kids and their families.
Media"How We Can Save Sports" author Ken Reed appears on Fox & Friends to explain how there's "too much adult in youth sports."
Ken Reed appears on Mornings with Gail from KFKA Radio in Colorado to discuss bad parenting in youth athletics.
“Should College Athletes Be Paid?” Ken Reed on The Morning Show from Wisconsin Public Radio
Ken Reed appears on KGNU Community Radio in Colorado (at 02:30) to discuss equality in sports and Title IX.
Ken Reed appears on the Ralph Nader Radio Hour (at 38:35) to discuss his book The Sports Reformers: Working to Make the World of Sports a Better Place, and to talk about some current sports issues.
- Reed Appears on Ralph Nader Radio Hour League of Fans’ sports policy director, Ken Reed, Ralph Nader and the New York Times’ Tyler Kepner discussed a variety of sports issues on Nader’s radio show as well as Reed’s updated book, How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan. Reed's book was released in paperback in February, and has a new introduction and several updated sections.
League of Fans is a sports reform project founded by Ralph Nader to fight for the higher principles of justice, fair play, equal opportunity and civil rights in sports; and to encourage safety and civic responsibility in sports industry and culture.
Vanderbilt Sport & Society - On The Ball with Andrew Maraniss with guest Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director for League of Fans and author of How We Can Save Sports: A Game Plan
Sports & Torts – Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans – at the American Museum of Tort Law
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