Last fall, Commissioner Rob Manfred proposed sweeping changes to the existing minor league structure, including the possible elimination of 42 teams.
There are a few teams owned by deep-pocketed investment groups that can probably survive this (and some are owned by the Major League teams themselves), but most of them are not. They have rents that are due and loan payments to make. They have workers who aren’t getting paid and most of them will be forced to look for other work. Even when play resumes, fans may be hesitant to go sit in crowded stands with a few thousand other people. For the Major Leagues, this is less of a problem as they make most of their money off of broadcast fees. For Minor League Baseball, the gate is king and broadcast revenues are tiny. It’s going to be very difficult for many Minor League owners to stay afloat.
And today, JJ Cooper of Baseball America writes that indeed, it appears that something similar to Manfred’s original proposal from last November is likely going to happen:
When MLB and MiLB negotiators convene on a teleconference on Wednesday, multiple sources with knowledge of the negotiations say MiLB will indicate that it agrees to 120 affiliated teams in a new PBA.
Such a concession by MiLB could be a clear step toward a deal. MiLB has now agreed to find ways to come to agreement on almost all of MLB’s public demands. Now the open question is whether MLB will be willing to accept the concession as a foundation for a potential deal.
According to a source with insight into the thinking of both parties, MLB and MiLB have already found common ground on a number of the major outstanding issues that MLB deputy commissioner Dan Halem laid out publicly in a letter to members of Congress last November.
There are currently 160 affiliated minor league teams. As noted in Josh’s article, almost all of them make their money on ticket sales and sponsorships; there’s no big pool of broadcast revenue at the minor-league level as there is for MLB clubs. Minor-league owners have to be hurting just as much as any small, local business is these days.
It remains to be seen what sort of structure MLB will come up with for the remaining 120 minor league teams, whether the “Dream League” previously proposed will be part of it (I have my doubts about whether that’s a viable prospect), or specifically which teams will be asked to shut down.
As always, we await developments.