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Everything posted by Liebo
Since this topic has re-emerged, I suspect I can chime in on a few (maybe minor) points: You're right, Savannah lost its Single-A baseball team, the Savannah Sand Gnats, but I wouldn't use that as a market barometer. Grayson Stadium was rebuilt in 1941 and the Sand Gnats had asked for a new facility for years. When it became clear a new facility wasn't going to happen, the organization moved to Columbia, S.C., where a sparkling facility was built. However, a summer collegiate team succeeded the Sand Gnats in Grayson Stadium. The Savannah Bananas were an immediate success, drawing 3,659 fans per game in 2016. They sold out every regular season game in 2017 and 2018, bringing in 4,173 and 4,229 fans per game, respectively. (Grayson Stadium's listed capacity is 4,000 seats.) The Bananas have finished second in the country among summer collegiate teams in attendance each of their three seasons. For reference, the Sand Gnats topped 2,000 fans per game just twice in their last 11 seasons in Savannah, their average didn't exceed 2,100 fans in that span. My point is, it looks like Savannah will come out for a good product presented in a fun manner. And as the Bananas proved, a big league affiliation and modern facility are not prerequisites. This one is a bit more complicated subject, because it's easy to look at a situation--MLB team proximity--and suggest this was because owners saw a value to nearby rivals. Sure, that might have been a marginal side effect, but perhaps the reason teams went no further than St. Louis was because cross-country travel was prohibitive until the 50's. A (very) cursory look at the history transcontinental flights seems to show that it wasn't until 1953 that an airline flew regular non-stops from coast to coast. Five years later, the Dodgers convinced the Giants to move to California with them, and the Angels landed in Anaheim three years after that. Even before commercial flights became commonplace for the general public, MLB was already looking westward. The St. Louis Browns proposed a move to Los Angeles in 1942 (with some help from TWA), which was ultimately sidetracked by World War II. The Pacific Coast League, the preeminent minor league for decades, sought to elevate itself to a third major league right after WWII, which again stalled MLB landing a team out west. When they could sort out travel and the Dodgers could convince the Giants to be their travel partner, MLB expanded its geography and never looked back. Travel was what limited the geographic spread for college conferences and minor league sports as well, not the desire for nearby rivals. The historic conferences maintained regional limitations because that was the easiest and cheapest way to build a schedule that wasn't cost prohibitive, particularly before the NCAA became a multi-billion-dollar industry. Consider that when money made travel less of an issue, the Big 12 expanded to West Virginia, the SEC added a team in Texas, the ACC ended up with teams in Indiana and Massachusetts, and the Big Ten spread from New Jersey to Kansas. In minor league sports, there are countless reasons teams and leagues fail--facilities and ownership usually chief among them--but travel can be a complicating issue. League sprawl eats away at budgets and player morale, particularly at the lower levels of the minor leagues. For instance, a great new market that's several states away might be able to pay its own freight with regards to travel, but it puts a strain on the budget for every other team in the league. Sure, you get a marquee team, but at what cost? That's why successful leagues enjoy judicious expansion and team relocation, and struggling leagues tend to fail in that area. Again, travel isn't the sole reason for team/league success or failure, but it shouldn't be overlooked. Yes, there are other benefits to locating teams near each other. Rivalries can be developed and augmented, and more games against nearby teams means those rivalry games have a greater impact on the standings. But teams and league makes location decisions for far greater reasons than creating a rivalry or two; rivalries are the result of geographic proximity, not the reason for it. But again, that's just my nickel's worth...
Looking to avoid stepping on toes as a newbie here, but I have to take issue with the distinction between semi-pro and pro as being linked to affiliated versus independent. The only thing many lower-level affiliated baseball (rookie, Class A) players have over their independent brethren is that their paychecks are drawn from big league bank accounts. Low minor baseball players are paid less than $2,000 per month, and only during the season. Such a salary puts them below the poverty line, and likely forces them to get another job in the offseason. (Oftentimes it's lessons and clinics--still in baseball, but nevertheless a second job.) In contrast, I've known independent players who make a living just from their playing contract. Of course affiliated players are closer to the payday of a big league job, and the biggest bonus an indy player might expect is a second turn at the postgame meal trough, but that in and of itself doesn't make the former more "professional" and the latter more "semi-pro". (Injecting the fact that the SPHL and other indy leagues may provide housing as evidence to being more semi-pro is kind of funny, too. Many affiliated ballplayers are left to pay for their own housing, and I've seen players live four and six to an apartment to cut costs. Considering the relative paychecks, it could be argued in many cases of the low minors that the so-called "semi-pro" indy players with host family arrangements are doing better for themselves than the "pro" players who cover their own housing.) Perhaps a better distinction of a pro versus a semi-pro is to be made by the players themselves. If they consider their primary vocation to be as an athlete, then they're pros. If they make a living elsewhere and the sport isn't their career focus, then they are semi-pros. (In the case of a former Major League Lacrosse player I knew of, this might not work too well; he was an MLL player on weekends and a successful stockbroker during the week.) Now of course, that definition isn't convenient because we as fans don't get to make the distinction ourselves, but it still might be more accurate. Or perhaps we should just go with the idea that if you get paid to play a sport, you're a professional. I find the term semi-pro is usually used to just make a team or league seem less important than its players and fans prefer. Sorry to distract from the expansion discussion, I can be a little sensitive to this topic.