Future of ABL looks gloomy

CaptureThe Australia Baseball League finished the regular season today. With the Brisbane Bandits, the Adelaide Bite and the Canberra Cavalry, there is only one profitable team that has reached the post season. The other one, the Perth Heat, was out of contention weeks ago.

This season’s attendance figures have not been published yet, but during the 2014-2015 season four of the six teams averaged around 1,000-1,100 fans per game. Only Sydney and Melbourne stayed behind with 643 and 789 fans per game (that is still a lot more than the average number of fans during a Dutch Hoofdklasse game).

The league’s CEO, Peter Wermuth was fired shortly before the ABL season started. Major League Baseball, who is the majority shareholder of the league with 75%, blamed him for the fact that the league did not expand in the past five years. But how fair is that when baseball is just a small sport in a country where cricket, rugby, Aussie rules football, soccer and women’s basketball are more popular?

The original ABL ran from 1989 through 1999 but folded due to financial difficulties of various clubs. The league had also problems with dividing the talent among the clubs.  In 2009 the league started all over again with MLB as 75% stake holder and Baseball Australia taking the remaining 25% of the shares.
The Toronto Blue Jays cooperated with the Canberra Cavalry to send some of their talents to the Australian capital. But in general the Minor League players that are sent down under aren’t the biggest talents. With Kevin Kiermaier and Didi Gregorius as an exception, none of the players that ever played in the ABL, reached the Major Leagues. It is obvious that MLB clubs do not send their best talents to Australia. And if they do it is only to make sure that they will get playing time after recovering from an injury.

With the current contract with Major League Baseball ending after this season (February 7), the future of the ABL is unclear. According to spokesman Brett Pickett there will be an ABL 2016-2017 season. The question is how much MLB is willing to invest in the ailing league. The league is very much needed to grow the sport of baseball in Australia. If MLB wants to bring down its share in the league, other financial help needs to be sought. The league is looking for much needed corporate partners in North America, Asia and Australia. To MLB , the league was merely a money pit and with the thawing relationship between Cuba and the USA, it may very well be that MLB will shift the attention to the Caribbean island.

In general you can conclude that the level of the league isn’t very high. Through the season there have been very few games without fielding errors. When you look at the stats of the Canberra Cavalry for example, the team’s position players committed 61 errors in just 56 games….

It remains to be seen if the 2015-2016 season of the ABL will be the league’s swansong or if the league will continue in one way or another.

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2 Replies to “Future of ABL looks gloomy”

  1. The layout of the new ABL seems far smarter than the old one. Focusing on capital cities so the teams can be the focus of baseball is each given state. Rather than having several teams all clustered in the Sydney area all vying the same limited number of fans.

    Despite the dire straights, expansion might still be a good idea. An 8-team league would break up the monotony of seeing the same matchups over and over and you could get added rivalry and interest by having two divisions.

    I wonder how feasible an expansion team in Auckland would be. It could be a focal point for the whole country like the Blue Jays are. And Baseball New Zealand could foot a little of the bill.

    Even for a less popular sport, the ABL should be able to draw 1000-2000 a game. They need to look past MLB and get some operations advice from Minor League Baseball. Those people know how to put butts in seats.

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    1. I agree with you that they should turn to MiLB more. They should make a family event out of it with entertainment. But then again, they will need investments from outside the sport. But who is willing to invest in a small sport like baseball.
      You see it overhere with the ELB (Euro League Baseball). No sponsor so far. Baseball is a small sport in Europe as well and that doesn’t attract investors.

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