The inaugural season of the Euro League Baseball will start coming Tuesday when the Buchbinder Legionäre from Regensburg will visit Draci Brno for a two game series.
In May 2015 the announcement of the ELB shook up the European baseball community. The inaugural season will start on April 19. To make this European professional league possible, the European Association of Professional Baseball was founded.
The founders, Wim van den Hurk (father of former MLB pitcher Rick van den Hurk, who is a star in the Japanese NPB now) and Jan Maarten Kops, thought it was time to start this European adventure. Adventure because the league walks the unbeaten tracks of European baseball.
The original clubs that joined the league were Curacao Neptunus and Vaessen Pioniers from the Netherlands, San Marino from the Italian IBL, Templiers de Sénart and Rouen Huskies from France, CB Barcelona and Sant Boi from Spain and the Buchbinder Legionäre from Regensburg in Germany. Rather soon they were joined by Draci Brno from the Czech Republic, Fortitudo Bologna from Italy, Bonn Capitals and Haar Disciples from Germany.
The founders opted to deal with the clubs before negotiating with the local baseball federations, because they feared that the federations would resist. But in general, the baseball federations were rather positive, except for the Royal Dutch Baseball and Softball Federation (KNBSB).
In the meantime the founders were looking for big sponsors that could support the league. The best thing that could happen was that MLB would support the league, but after the deception with the Australian Baseball League, MLB did not want to join yet. Despite the fact that the ELB could not find a major sponsor, the founders managed to strike a deal with Wilson (baseballs), Louisville Slugger (bats), and Arcor Hotels.
The intention was to start a European competition next to the local competitions. Teams from the same country would travel together to save on travel costs. Games in the own league between the participants would also count for the ELB, also to save costs. Eventually the bi-weekly schedule of four games on week days, was replaced by a weekly schedule of two games, to be played on Mondays and Tuesdays or on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
At the end of October 2015, all participating teams agreed on a “go”. But in the meantime there was a big change in the number of participants. The Spanish teams had withdrawn because of financial problems. Vaessen Pioniers from Hoofddorp was replaced by L&D Amsterdam Pirates.
But thanks to different point of views between the founders and the KNBSB, the latter did not allow the Dutch members to participate. Due to this ban, the Italian press mused about a possible retreat of the Italian participants. And indeed, Fortitudo Bologna and San Marino pulled back, officially due to the big financial risk. In fact that would not be exaggerated as some Italian baseball clubs are facing financial difficulties. Former powerhouses like Nettuno and Parma are about to collapse. Also the French members withdrew for the same financial reasons as did the Bonn Capitals.
Due to this retreat and the ban of the KNBSB, only three teams were left in the ELB for the 2016 season: Draci Brno, Haar Disciples and Buchbinder Legionäre. A fourth team was needed because a three team league could lead to a failure of the league. After long negotiations, a team Amsterdam was founded. Backbone of the team will be players from L&D Amsterdam, but also a couple of retired players will join this team. The team will play in special uniforms instead of the official uniforms of L&D Amsterdam Pirates.
L&D Amsterdam Pirates has always been one of the clubs that believed in the ELB and is willing to invest. It is clear that every participating club has to invest in playing in this league. The estimated costs will be around €30,000 per year. Of course this is a risk without main sponsor, but doesn’t the proverb say that you have to spend money to make money? Why can’t financial sound clubs like Curacao Neptunus invest, while a small club like the Haar Disciples can. I have to be honest that the Haar Disciples have a private investor that believes in the business plan that the club created. The club thinks that they can earn back the invested money by selling tickets, merchandise and by selling drinks and food.
The intention of the ELB is to create a minor league atmosphere by organizing theme nights, giving away promotional articles like t-shirts and bobble heads and by organizing “between innings” games to entertain the public. Every game has to be a party, both on the field and around the field. If a Dutch hoofdklasse club like Oosterhout Twins can do the same, why can’t other clubs. This club should serve as an example, just like the Haar Disciples.
In between inning games and a mascot at Oosterhout Twins to create a festive atmosphere.
There is one remaining question. Why do the founders continue with the ELB now only three teams and a team that is run by the league itself participate? According to fellow founder Jan Maarten Kops, a delay of a year may very well mean the end of the league. The league has spoken to MLB several times and the latter said that if the ELB can show that it is capable to survive without main sponsor, MLB may join as sponsoring partner.
Opening Day of the league will be April 19 when Regensburg will visit Brno. One week later, the Munich-Haar Disciples tee off in Regensburg vs the Legionäre. For team Amsterdam Opening Day will be on May 15 at the ballpark of L&D Amsterdam Pirates. The team will play Draci Brno and an event organized with partner Terre des Hommes (a charitable organization). There will be bouncing castles, barbeques, mascots and souvenir and merchandise stands to spice up the atmosphere.
If your interest has been drawn, you can check out the schedule of the league at this link (click view all).