Thursday, June 24, 2004

Independent league future?? 

I'm currently listening to the MP3 of the June 12 edition of Baseball Prospectus Radio. They're talking to Pete Caliendo of the independent minor-league baseball Northern League. In 2005, the league is expanding into Calgary, former home of the AAA Pacific league Cannons, as well as Edmonton, former home of the AAA Trappers. The league already has a franchise in Winnipeg. He spoke of further expansion with the possibility of a 5-team Canadian division.

Under the sad assumption that the Lynx may be living on borrowed time, the Northern league looks like a decent future fit for Lynx stadium. It's a short-season league, with the season starting in late May, eliminating much of the cold weather attendance problem of April. Even hardcore baseball fans, myself included, have a hard time enjoying a ballgame in near-freezing temperatures. Given the Senators' playoff record, the late May start to the season unfortunately only occasionally clashes with Senators hockey.

The big question is though: Will Ottawa support any baseball team? Even when the weather has been nice the team has had trouble drawing a crowd. The problem certainly isn't a lack of promotional effort from Kyle Bostwick and the rest of Lynx management. Bostwick has been tireless and innovative in his promotion of the team. He seems to have tried everything short of signing crowd-drawing, crowd-pleasing SpongeBob Squarepants to play third base (I hear he can really soak up the grouders over there).

Lack of a competitive team has often been cited as an excuse for poor attendance. The early pennant-winning versions of the Lynx sold out the park. However, more recently, last season's wildcard team drew only a lukewarm respose.

A highly competitive entertainment (including Renegades), festival, and cottage scene also make it hard to attract fans that are trying to squeeze the most out of a short, glorious, respite from winter.

Another positive of a shorter schedule is that there are fewer games to "dilute the schedule". It's easy to put off going to a game when there are dozens more to come. Maybe the demand is outstripping the supply to the point that things look worse than they are.

Inevitably, in my haste to replace a team that hasn't even left yet, I'm overlooking some factors. Even outside of dubious fan support, there are possible obstacles, not the least of which are the travel costs of joining a league that is mostly located well west of Ottawa. As a result, The Atlantic league or Northeast league may be a better fit. Maybe I'll do that research another day. For now, the prospect of a short-season independent league intrigued me.

Of course, the best scenario is for the Lynx not to leave in the first place.