These Cities Built Minor League Ballparks With Taxpayer Money. Now They Don’t Have Teams To Play in Them.
When the 2021 baseball season arrives—if it arrives—the minor leagues will look a bit different than they did two years ago. And more than a dozen cities might look extra foolish for spending major amounts of public money on minor league ballparks.
There was no minor league baseball in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but there was still plenty of drama surrounding Major League Baseball’s (MLB) farm system. After months of speculation and occasional news leaks, MLB finalized its plans earlier this month to reduce the number of affiliated minor league clubs that are used by major league teams to develop talent. Previously, each of the 30 MLB clubs had five or six minor league affiliates—starting next year, each will have just four.
It’s a move that’s meant to save the big league clubs money, as it means paying fewer minor league ballplayers and financially supporting fewer clubs. Even though minor league teams are owned and operated mostly independently of their MLB parent organizations, the much richer big-league clubs provide a steady stream of revenue to their farm teams. Losing its connection to an MLB franchise can be an existential threat to a minor league club, which stands to lose both the direct financial benefits of being affiliated and the indirect benefits of attracting fans who want to see future big-leaguers or rehabbing MLB stars.
That’s the gloomy future to which about 40 former minor league teams have been doomed. Given the uncertainties created by COVID-19—will fans be allowed into the stadiums this summer?—it seems more than likely that some of those franchises will simply cease to exist.
That’s a shame, because taxpayers have funneled nearly $250 million into stadiums for teams that are now on MLB’s chopping block. That’s according to Neil deMause, a stadium subsidy critic and co-author of Field of Schemes (as well as a blog of the same name), who crunched the numbers after the official affiliation announcements were made earlier this month.
“A whole lot of minor-league baseball fans are
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