Reports have been circulating for months that Major League Baseball was planning to contract the MiLB system in 2021, and now it looks like it will become a reality. And to be honest, this shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone right now.
According to Baseball America, sources have told them that MiLB is expected to support contraction, as well as most of the other demands that Major League Baseball has requested from the entity. This support is expected to come tomorrow during a conference call between MLB and Minor League Baseball.
Among some of the other demands from MLB include a promise to update minor league facilities, Major League Baseball taking control of MiLB (as of right now, MiLB is an independent entity with offices in St. Petersburg, FL) and the ability to control which minor league teams are affiliated with MLB teams (as of right now, MLB teams enter Player Development Contracts (PDC) with MiLB teams). The Professional Baseball Agreement between MLB and MiLB is set to expire after the 2020 season.
This is without a doubt a gut punch to the 40+ communities that will lose their professional baseball teams. And it’s one that quite frankly won’t be able to be replaced, even though MiLB is lobbying to protect baseball in those communities despite the contraction, possibly through summer ball leagues.
However, MiLB capitulating to Major League Baseball should come to no one’s surprise.
MiLB Had No Leverage
Simply put, Minor League Baseball had next to no leverage in this fight from the very beginning, as MiLB needs Major League Baseball more than the other way around. The only real leverage that MiLB could have used in this fight would have been if fans came out in droves to support their teams in 2020. If this happened, then Minor League Baseball could have used this to formulate this argument: Pull out of these cities, but you will not only hurt the communities that love these teams but also do a significant amount of damage to your brand from a PR standpoint. That argument, however, can’t be made at this time.
All MiLB teams at the moment (sans short-season teams, who don’t start until June) have shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic, and the sad reality is that several MiLB teams were going to go out of business because of it. Even though there is hope by some in the MiLB business that there could be some sort of 2020 Minor League season, it’s highly unlikely that will happen. And no, holding empty stadium games is not feasible for MiLB teams.
The pandemic has certainly changed the business world since the global outbreak of the virus, and minor league baseball is no exception. But with MiLB in the state that it’s in right now, it needs Major League Baseball’s support now more than ever from a financial standpoint. Because of that, a major fight with MLB would not be the wisest move. It wasn’t before, and it definitely is not now.
It’s going to be tough to see these MiLB teams go out of business, especially since there’s a very good chance that their fans won’t properly be able to say goodbye. However, the reality is that several teams were going to go bankrupt due to the current circumstances, so the fact that MiLB is capitulating to Major League Baseball makes sense. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but we need to accept it and let’s hope that all involved can make the best out of the situation.
UPDATE (4/21): MiLB released a statement on Twitter minutes after the release of this article. In the statement, Minor League Baseball refuted the Baseball America report, stating that they have not agreed to contract.
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