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MLB moves to decimate baseball in dozens of communities

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The Commissioner’s Office really wants you to think they care, but you should watch their actions, not their PR blitz

Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Like many of you, a few weeks ago I received a survey from MLB asking for my feedback on the game. As some of you know, one of my first jobs out of college was in polling, so I have a hard time just taking a survey. I’m always thinking about why certain questions were asked and what an organization is trying to accomplish with their poll.

In the case of Major League Baseball, an organization that has long touted itself as the central organizing body of the nation’s pastime, it looks like a survey for an organization that doesn’t know who it is and is trying to find itself — but they want you to desperately believe they care about the game.

The initial questions attempt to determine your attachment to the game. Do you love it? When did you start watching? Why? Pretty standard information if you’d like to segment fans into different categories and piece together how long they’ve been fans. They then do some league comparison questions, having you rank your favorite professional sports leagues and asking for a bit of context as to why you like that league, etc. Interestingly, they also ask about international baseball leagues you follow. All of this is pretty standard. They are basically trying to reverse engineer your fandom in the hopes they can make you love baseball more.

But the real red flag on this survey comes at the end with what can only be described as a test to see how many baseball players fans can accurately name. How else would you describe this?

And herein lies the problem. MLB is an organization that wants you to think they care about the game, fans and our opinions, but they also recognize they have failed to effectively market the best baseball player in a generation to a degree that they cannot guarantee the people taking their survey will recognize Mike Trout.

But it’s much more than cluelessness about how to market the game. While MLB runs a survey in the hopes of reverse engineering your fandom they are simultaneously decimating baseball in dozens of communities around the country. Let’s start with the ultimatum they gave Fresno over Thanksgiving weekend, which basically amounts to take a demotion from Triple-A to Single-A or get out of the league:

Major League Baseball has issued a threat to Fresno city officials and the owners of the local minor league franchise: Accept a demotion to a lower league by Monday or prepare to go without affiliation to one of MLB’s 30 clubs.

“Because communications with the (Fresno) Grizzlies and City of Fresno have indicated they have no interest in operating a Single-A affiliate, we do not currently intend to offer any affiliation to the Grizzlies or Fresno,” Daniel R. Halem, deputy commissioner and chief legal officer for MLB, wrote in a letter emailed Wednesday to Mayor Lee Brand, Mayor Elect Jerry Dyer and the Fresno City Council.

The Bee sent an email to city officials and left a message for Grizzlies team president Derek Franks seeking comment but amid the Thanksgiving holiday had received no response as of Thursday afternoon.

What type of organization issues an ultimatum like this over a holiday weekend? Certainly not one that cares about baseball in Fresno or is interested in getting the children of Fresno to attend MiLB games in the hopes of making them more engaged fans later. Fresno wound up accepting the demotion to preserve their affiliation, but many other teams weren’t so lucky. Take a look at the statement from the Staten Island Yankees, who are suing the New York Yankees after having their ties to the franchise severed:

That’s right, not only are the Staten Island Yankees shuttering their team, they are suing the New York Yankees because this move absolutely decimates their ability to operate. As an interesting aside, this lawsuit could have implications for baseball’s antitrust exemption, but that’s an article for another day. For today, let’s just recognize that this action is all about profit maxmization for MLB owners and flies in the face of caring about, or growing, the game.

Furthermore, what even is this (emphasis mine)?

Although we still have not heard from the Yankees directly it would appear from their press release that they would like us to go from the past arrangement in which the Staten Island Yankees were an affiliated minor league team of the New York Yankees - where we facilitated player development and brand exposure, among other benefits to the New York Yankees - to one in which we play unaffiliated baseball with no relationship to the Yankees whatsoever.

It would appear that the New York Yankees functionally ghosted a long term MiLB affiliate. I thought that was just a fluke until I saw this tweet yesterday when the Clinton LumberKings confirmed that the Miami Marlins did the same thing to them:

Clinton LumberKings tweet

The LumberKings have since deleted that tweet, but the lack of even a phone call from the Marlins is disturbing. MLB restructured the minor leagues, teams ended decades long relationships with some areas where MiLB was the only access to live professional baseball and they just didn’t even bother to call their affiliates in at least two instances.

This is not a league that cares about developing fans in Fresno, Staten Island, Clinton or dozens of other small cities across the country. Keep in mind many of those places lack access to watching nearby teams on television due to MLB’s arcane blackout map — so it isn’t like they can make up the difference with TV contract. Here, as always when we have a chance, is that ridiculous map:

mlb territorial map

This is a league hoping they can develop fans through yet to be developed marketing campaigns rather than actual exposure to the game from a league that has already demonstrated they don’t know how to market their stars. They do not care about the game, they care about profits, and it’s cheaper to run a survey than to support baseball in America’s mid-sized cities.