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Selling the sizzle

Minor League Baseball (MiLB) is knocking it out of the park. According to Pat O’Conner, President of MiLB, baseball still rules in America. This month, O’Conner spoke with The American Business Journal about the league’s business growth in recent years.

The governing body for the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, an organization formed in 1901, over the years MiLB has formed a relationship with Major League Baseball, acting as the primary development league for the ‘big leagues’.

The umbrella league

In its most technical sense, players are members of teams, which are members of the leagues, which are members to the national association, comprised of rookie leagues in Florida and Arizona, all the way to AAA baseball. Also within the association are its international leagues, including the Mexican League, the Mexican Academy League, the Venezuelan Summer League, and the Dominican Summer League. Today, nearly 250 baseball teams are involved in the association.

MiLB strives to manage its team and league relations in a macro sense, creating and nurturing an environment for those teams to excel. In such a revenue-driven business model, MiLB acknowledges its need to ensure that it maintains the flexibility to not assign itself fix costs moving forward, proud of its ability to control expenses, of which have been fairly unilateral.

“We are not a one size fits all organization. We don’t govern that way,” said O’Conner, who holds more than 26 years of professional business experience. “Within each league, the challenges are somewhat unique and for us to try to paint with a broad brush, we would miss too many of the important areas.”

Growth of the game

In recent years, MiLB has witnesses record attendance numbers, something O’Conner attributes to the MiLB’s structure of affordable family entertainment and an acutely sensitive customer service model.

“In any one night, you can see generations of fans in our parks and nothing is more heartwarming. I think that is all because we have such a great product…which is the game of baseball,” said O’Conner. “We sell the sizzle in MiLB, where you can actually get up-close and personal with the players. We run good operations…the hot dogs are hot, cold drinks are cold, popcorn is fresh, and the stadium is a safe, clean environment.”

Rookie Career Development Program

A transitional program developed to prepare young players for life in the big leagues—dealing with social, financial, and lifestyle challenges—the Rookie Career Development Program is a product of MLB that is supported by MiLB, a beneficiary to the program. It is O’Conner’s belief that players who have gone through such a course come out as difference makers.

“[These players] will talk to other players and become leaders within the ball club, so we all benefit from that. Many organizations have life skills programs, not being away from home for an extended period of time, managing their own money, going to work every day, the situation they have to live in, etc.

“If you go to the office and certain aspects of your life aren’t right…personal, health, finance, family…if those aren’t right, you’re not going to perform well at your job, and baseball is no different,” said O’Conner. “In fact, baseball may be more difficult because of the acute athletic skills that are required.”

Accordingly, front and centre to O’Conner’s agenda is a goal to get “kids in the intercity playing baseball again, not only as a means of recreation and exercise, but also as a [safe] alternative.” Other goals include continuing to develop added value for its corporate partners. As a long-term commitment, the MiLB strives to diversify its operations, ownership, and workforce, which O’Conner feels will lead to diversification of the league’s fan base as well as its business relationships. “This is not the same world we lived in five years ago. And the next five years will not look how it does today.”

The key for MiLB, like any business, is to not lose sight of its core business, never forgetting its roots and what got it to this point, something O’Conner feels helps the MiLB “sell the tangible aspect of an athletic event.”

“Our owners work tireless in making the experience all it can be to continue enhancing that experience and to grow our fan base.”

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