As we’ve discussed in previous posts, a minor league team’s relationship with their major league affiliate is incredibly important for civic and league credibility, financial efficiency, and an overall piece of mind. This relationship is only growing in importance, as minor league teams have found ways to highlight and monetize their affiliations, and major league teams have found it useful to help promote their team in front of a new fan base. A good relationship is a win-win opportunity for both entities and fans. In fact, as fans become more savvy and engaged with MiLB’s business, affiliation relationships are becoming more popular and taken very seriously.
As currently constructed, affiliations are able to be a signed at a minimum of two years and a maximum of four years. These short-term parameters do not stop long-term relationships, and they also allow teams to cut their losses and reverse course if they get into bad situations. But I still think the structure of these affiliations could benefit from a change.
What I would change wouldn’t be the short-term nature of these affiliations: I think it is important for both teams to not be forced into a situation they don’t want to be in and that doesn’t work. Nobody wins in that situation. My change would be to add a duration option of 10 years, so teams could tangibly get into a long-term partnership, and the fans and teams could reap the benefits of each organization’s faith in one another. The addition of the option, while keeping the minimal risk of the short-term deals, would confer several important benefits for minor league teams and affiliates alike.
It is rare for MLB teams to have consistency with ALL of their minor league affiliates. It is perfectly reasonable to assume there is going to be some mobility. On the Blue Jays’ side, they had a 31-year (!) affiliation with their Triple A team – the Syracuse Chiefs (SkyChiefs) – from 1979 to 2008. Since then, they were in Las Vegas for four years before settling into what looks to be a stable home for the foreseeable future in Buffalo.
Of their eight affiliates, the Jays own three– the Dunedin Jays (High A), Gulf Coast League Blue Jays (Rookie League), and Dominican Summer League Jays (Rookie League). This consistency is rare, and factoring in long-term relationships in New Hampshire (since 2003), Lansing (Since 2005), and Vancouver Canadians (since 2011), the Jays seem to be an outlier of stability.
This consistency allows fans to follow their players as they ascend throughout the system and into the majors, follow the MLB team, and of course it allows the MLB team to reach kids and create fans for life.
Owning the teams allow them to invest capital into the facility, resources and turf, because they know it is theirs to use without fear of an affiliation change. A 10-year agreement allows teams to do the same thing, especially if the relationship is good and has geographic or fanbase overlap.
For example, let’s say a MiLB team has a really good affiliate. Everybody is happy in every capacity — except that the clubhouse is cramped, the stadium’s facilities are outdated, and the grass doesn’t get proper irrigation, creating a bit of an uneven (but not unsafe) outfield. The MiLB club knows the MLB team wants these renovations, and it could be a sticking point in extending the affiliation. But the MiLB team cannot afford to spend a couple million dollars on upgrades, especially because doing so would not directly generate revenue for the team by selling sponsorships, tickets and food in the way that building suites, a videoboard, or a group area would. The MLB team would not be opposed to picking up some of the costs, but it would need certainty and time to amortize it and see results. A four-year window just doesn’t allow this to happen, so both teams could suffer, all because they didn’t have enough time to amortize investments they both could be making.
Of course, the counter-argument is that if the relationship is good, they could simply keep on extending it. That has worked in the past, and there is no need to be contractually obligated, especially when a lot could change within an MLB team’s baseball operations.
Another key aspect of a long-term affiliation, outside of investing capital, is that it changes the mindset on activation and allows both teams to get comfortable with the spirit of improvement, as opposed to monitoring every situation and planning an escape route.
Imagine working for a boss that nitpicks everything you do. You never feel comfortable making mistakes or going out on a limb, and you are walking on eggshells all the time. Now imagine you have the full confidence of your boss instead of worrying about how things are perceived you are focused on solutions and getting things done. That could be the difference between a short and long-term affiliation, if only they extended this duration.
The short-term duration of MiLB affiliations makes a lot of sense. But a change from the current four-year affiliations to a 10-year option wouldn’t change the things that already work — it would only make those things stronger.