After the news that the Euro League Baseball will start this season without the Dutch, Italian and French participants, I was wondering why some teams have decided to pull back and some can’t wait to participate in the ELB.
Curacao Neptunus’ participation was already at stake when the KNBSB (the Dutch Baseball and Softball Federation) did not allow them to participate on pain of exlusion from the Dutch Hoofdklasse, but according to their spokesperson, the financial risk was one of the main reasons that the club decided to pull back. Through the years, Curacao Neptunus never overspent and had a sound financial policy. Without a main sponsor of the ELB it may have forced them to overspend and thus risking the club’s future. Through the years we have seen several Dutch clubs disappear because they kept spending on players with money they did not really have. Clubs like Haarlem Nicols and ADOLakers.
On the other hand, to make something work, you have to invest at times.
Take the Haar Disciples for example. They are one of the three regular teams that will start playing in the Euro League Baseball in April. According to the club’s chairman and founder, Todd Covell, the club has made a business plan that estimates that it will cost the club about €30,000 to make this ELB work.
So where does the club get the money from? Well, the situation of this club cannot be compared with that of Curacao Neptunus. The club has a private investor who believes in the club’s business plan, so he is willing to invest money in the club. Next to this private investor the club thinks that admission, concessions and merchandise will bring in a big sum of money. But to draw fans to their ballpark, there is a lot that needs to be done. Currently the number of fans per game averages 250. They have calculated that the club will break even with an average of 500 fans per game. To reach this number, the club is heavily advertising each game to draw children to the ballpark. For those children, there will be animation, bouncing castles, batting cages, radar guns; many things to keep them occupied. And when the children come to the ballpark, their parents will follow, at least according to the philosophy of the Disciples. The more games, the more income. The atmosphere should be like a minor league game. The Disciples believe in the attraction of the event. And that is what every game should be: an event.
The situation of the Disciples is completely different compared to that of Curacao Neptunus. Despite having a big sponsor (Fundashion Bon Intenshion) and a couple of smaller sponsors, Neptunus is lacking a sugar daddy like the Disciples have. Another big difference is the team itself. Curacao Neptunus has a lot of players that are true amateurs. They have a job and cannot always skip that to play a game. This is another reason why the club decided to pull back from the ELB for the upcoming season. Due to the private investor, the Haar Disciples have a couple of professional players on the team now, that can focus on playing baseball only. This does also mean that some players cannot play on road games because they have a job next to their baseball life. But because of acquiring pro players, the club is neglecting the youth teams and is lacking a good education, which is the case with many clubs in Germany. The Regensburg Legionäre may be the only exception to the rule. Todd Covell admitted that having a good baseball school/academy will save the club money in the long run. In this way it will reap the fruits by not having to acquire expensive players every year.
Next to the animation, bouncing castles and other things to lure the children to the ballpark, the Disciples are planning various promotions to draw the adults to the ballpark. To accomplish this, the club has hired a GM who has worked in the Minor League business. According to Todd Covell, the club is thinking about giving away bobble heads, t-shirts and other similar promotions. This works in the US, so why won’t it work in Europe, at least in the long run?
Covell states that investing in this Euro League Baseball is quite a big risk but that there is no other possibility right now. The club will not survive with the current spending and because of that there is a business case needed. Money has to come in and that is where the promotions are needed for.
If this will work in the upcoming season, perhaps other clubs that intended to participate in the ELB will realize that it is possible to play in a professional league. But then again, the structure of those clubs may need to change, because for clubs that contain mainly amateurs, it may be hard to field a team on week nights when they are on the road and the biggest part of the players will have to work the next day.
Perhaps the clubs should sit together and think about how to play pro ball without jeopardizing their future as not every club has a structure as the Haar Disciples do.
To finish this blog post, I’d like to thank the spokes person of Curacao Neptunus, Michel Streur and the chairman of the Haar Disciples, Todd Covell, for their time to answer my questions.