Gray Lady Grim about the Minors' Economic Outlook

nyt.gifOn Friday, the New York Times ran an article on the state of the Minor League economy entitled “As Money Tightens, Scaling Back on Jobs and Fun”. It was written by one Michael S. Schmidt (who is like me in that he is a sportswriter who must share his name with a far more famous individual), and can be viewed here.

Schmidt wrote the piece at the Las Vegas Winter Meetings after talking to a variety of Minor League job seekers and front office executives. While I can’t argue with any of the facts in the article, it nonetheless seems to me that Schmidt went out of his way to remain negative throughout, like he was unable or unwilling to deviate from the main premise of “the economy’s in bad shape, therefore the Minor Leagues must be in bad shape too”.

We learn that some teams are skimping on equipment costs, in-game entertainment features,stretch.JPG and concession stand portions, that it is harder for job-seekers to attain employment in the industry, and that sponsorship dollars will be increasingly hard to come by. This is most certainly the case, and I don’t want anyone to accuse me of myopia when it comes to the difficult economic situation that Minor League Baseball (and by extension, our country) currently finds itself in.

However, Schmidt does his readers a disservice by failing to mention the ways in which the Minor Leagues are relatively well-positioned to weather the current economic storm. First, many of these clubs have deep-rooted relationships with their communities, and have therefore accumulated a tremendous amount of fan loyalty. These fans are making economic sacrifices along with everyone else, but many will find a way to remain ballpark regulars while spending less on other, less deeply-ingrained entertainment diversions. This is America’s Pastime, after all.

milb_logo.gifSecondly, when compared to other entertainment options, the Minor Leagues provide a lot of bang for the buck. A family of four can attend a game for anywhere from $20-40 total, while taking advantage of frequent giveaway items and food and beverage prices that are far lower than most any other professional sports event. And let’s be realistic…while the Major and Minor Leagues have a symbiotic relationship in many respects, fans who live within reasonable distance of both options may find themselves drifting more and more toward the Minor League side of the equation. In the Majors its often difficult to find a ticket for less than $20 (and let’s not forget about $12 parking, $8 beer, and $5 hot dogs) and there is also the increasingly off-putting disconnect of watching ludicrously well-compensated individuals compete within an overall morbid economic environment.

Finally, industry-wide creativity is one of the Minor Leagues’ greatest strengths, and that istheflag.gif something that can’t be measured in purely economic terms. I think one of the reasons the 2009 season will be very interesting is because teams across the country will come up with their own unique ways to deal with the crisis. Whether its by staging promotions that poke fun at the situation (I’m guessing there will be a wave of “Fan Bailout” nights) finding new ways to lure previously unreached customers to the ballpark, or cutting costs without dramatically altering the upbeat environment, the industry will adjust. It always has and it always will. This is real-live professional baseball we’re talking about. It has survived through two World Wars, the Great Depression, innumerable natural disasters, the designated hitter, Nixon, and astroturf. It will survive this as well, and Michael S. Schmidt should have taken the time to at least acknowledge this more nuanced big-picture view.

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soapboxed.jpgOkay, I’ll get off of my soapbox now. It’s been a while since I’ve been on this thing, and in fact my right leg broke through one of the slats and ripped a hole in my jeans. I promise to be more careful in the future.

Also, thanks to regular reader and longtime touring NBA stand-up comic Tom Lorenzo for alerting me to this article in the first place. If YOU would like to alert me to anything, please send an email –

benjamin.hill@mlb.com

4 Comments

Amen, Mr. Hill. I understand the economic situation many industries, companies, and individuals face, but I also believe that one-sided stories proclaiming doom and gloom do more to continue that sentiment than inform people. I agree with you that minor leagues provide a great bang for the family buck. And, if anything, I would expect minor league baseball to grow its fan base during this period of uncertainty. Keep up the good work!

You are so right. Great job.
http://tribechick.mlblogs.com/

Amen #2 Ben!
- Minor league baseball, in Salt Lake at any rate, is cheaper than many, many entertainment options for families. For example, for several years now, the SL Bees have offered a variety of season-long discount nights and discounted ticket packages. The local grocery store, Harmon’s sponsored “Monday family night,” which allowed families, for a mere $12, to get tickets and refreshments for up to 8. (I think it was $12 and 8. I don’t have little ones myself, so I’m going on fuzzy recollection.) The student package provides grass seating for all 72 home games for a mere $35! . . .And no, I don’t work for the team.
- At any rate, if your readers check out their local minor league team, I’m sure they’ll find similar great deals. One more suggestion, if you can’t find an advertised deal, call up the front office and ask for one. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised to discover that the Minor League Baseball front office is one of the last bastions of truly gracious customer service. . . BeesGal (going on 11 years in the same seat!)

Seriously, why would anybody in his/her right mind believe anything appearing in the NY Times?

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