Last year, as part of the negotiations over a new Professional Baseball Agreement (PBA) with Minor League Baseball, Major League Baseball introduced a proposal that would dramatically reimagine the minor leagues. The proposal included plans to shift the timing of the amateur draft and realign some parent-club affiliations, league geographies, and club levels. Most importantly, it proposed stripping more than 40 clubs of their affiliated status, though it also suggested that some of the newly unaffiliated teams would assume other formats, either as so-called professional partner leagues, or as amateur summer wood bat leagues. The plan got us thinking about how access to in-person baseball across the United States would change. We were interested in how many people would lose their ability to watch affiliated baseball in person, or would see that access shift from the relatively affordable confines of the minor leagues to more expensive major league parks.
Those studies relied on a New York Times list of teams reportedly slated for contraction, as well as Baseball America’s excellent reporting. Thirteen months, a pandemic, and one extremely contentious negotiation later, MLB has informed minor league teams of their proposed fates, with 120 franchises “invited” to be part of the new, MLB-developed minor league system. Many are still reviewing the terms of their “invitations”; several find themselves occupying a new rung on the minor league ladder, or with a different parent club than before.
Meanwhile, 25 clubs find themselves ticketed either for summer wood bat leagues, including the newly formed MLB Draft League, or for pro partner leagues for undrafted players and released minor leaguers. Eighteen teams face futures that are, as of this writing, uncertain, though as Baseball America’s JJ Cooper notes, “Major League Baseball has indicated that it will pay entry fees for these teams that were left out of affiliated baseball to join new leagues. MLB will pay their way in, but as a condition those teams are expected to waive a right to sue.” The complete list of the 43 franchises slated to lose their affiliated status can be found below. Of the 43, 11 are full-season clubs:
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On Monday, we published a piece detailing how MLB’s proposal to reimagine the minor leagues would alter in-person access to professional baseball across the country. We were interested in how many people would lose their ability to watch affiliated baseball in person, or see that access shift from the minor leagues to more expensive major league parks. To arrive at those numbers:
[W]e took the geographical center of each ZCTA (a close relative of ZIP Codes used by the Census Bureau). We calculated the distance as the crow flies from each ZCTA to each ballpark in America, both in 2019 and in MLB’s proposed new landscape. From there, we took the minimum of all of those distances for each ZCTA. That gave us the shortest distance to baseball for each geographical center. We then matched the distance with the population of each area.
In the piece, we acknowledged the limitations of linear distance. It doesn’t account for natural barriers, like say, mountains or lakes, or things like the placement of roads. And, as several folks pointed out on twitter and in the comments, not all road conditions are created equally. How long it takes to drive 50 miles in the Washington D.C. metro area varies widely from how long that same distance takes in rural Montana. What’s more, residents of those respective areas likely view a 50 mile drive differently; if you have to travel a ways to go grocery shopping, your understanding of how burdensome a 100 mile drive to your “local” minor league ballpark is probably different than it is for someone who lives in a place with a meaningful rush hour and amenities that are closer at hand. So while linear distance is a good approximation of how the access landscape would change in the new minor leagues, we wanted to take a stab at being a bit more precise. Read the rest of this entry »
In October, Baseball America and The New York Times reported on a proposal from Major League Baseball that, if enacted, would dramatically reimagine the minor leagues. The proposal was the opening salvo of the League’s negotiations with Minor League Baseball over a new Professional Baseball Agreement (PBA), the agreement that governs the relationship between MLB and minor league teams, and includes plans to shift the timing of the amateur draft, realign parent-club affiliations, league geographies, and levels in some cases, and eliminate 42 teams. In justifying the shift, MLB pointed to a desire to improve minor league compensation and playing conditions, reduce burdensome travel, and elevate the facility standards of minor league parks. Those are worthy goals, though the fact that many of them could be accomplished within the existing minor league structure by simply spending more money suggests that this move may be one that is also motivated by cost-savings and efficiency, rather than just concern for minor leaguers on long bus rides.
Earlier this month, the Times revealed which teams are currently slated for closure under MLB’s proposal. Those teams, along with their 2019 total attendance figures are listed in the sortable table below:
With a more specific list of affiliates in hand, we wondered how these closures would affect access to professional baseball across the country. Read the rest of this entry »