Baseball’s Changing Landscape

Photo courtesy of the Associated Press (Frank Franklin II/Associated Press)
Photo courtesy of the Associated Press (Frank Franklin II/Associated Press)

In 2020, Major League Baseball (MLB) decided to engage in the contraction of Minor League Baseball (MiLB).  The result meant that MLB would take over the control of the league itself determining structure and what minor league clubs will be included.  Forty or so minor league clubs were left out of the new structure leading to consolidation, but also the inclusion of some independent (formerly non-affiliated) clubs.  Furthermore, it has also led to MLB clubs to take over minor league clubs and leagues to establish more consistent control over the big league clubs brand, player development, and long-term planning.

In the past, MiLB clubs were generally independent entities and would sign Professional Development Licenses (PDL) with the MLB clubs.  For most PDF relationships, the MLB club would control the player development aspect, but the minor league side would handle ticket sales, marketing, etc.  That relationship is now changing to a more direct and long-term approach that resembles club and academy soccer. 

Considering the aforementioned, a question going forward will be what happens to the high school baseball players who now have less options to join an affiliated MLB system through the annual draft where there are less minor league clubs and fewer draft rounds?  There are still independent league clubs, and that list is growing with the MLB/MiLB contraction/consolidation, but of course the best path to a 25-man roster is through an affiliated club.  Arguably, the baseball players who are missing out on the draft will choose the college route. 

Indeed, the college route through the NCAA and Division I universities with top baseball teams will benefit from the change in the MLB/MiLB structure.  Moreover, with name, image, and likeness (NIL) entering the college space in the near future, high school prospects will be all the more motivated to move up the MLB draft board down the line by showcasing their talents at the college level, while making some extra cash and investments through NIL ventures.  The trademarking and branding aspect of individual athletes will simultaneously become just as important. 

In some sense, much like the National Basketball Association (NBA), the MLB is looking to focus on the franchise to increase the value of clubs and the league as a whole.  Imagine selling a franchise that includes the big league club, ballpark, real estate around the ballpark, the brand, and several minor league clubs and their venues.  The price indeed goes up when sold as a package.  Before 2020 that was not possible.  It will be going forward.

The baseball landscape has indeed changed.  For some, it is a change that will make some formerly minor league affiliated clubs become unaffiliated.  However, it also presents some opportunities to new clubs, colleges, and athletes. 

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