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Sunday, August 16, 2020

Greed and Over-Reaching - The Tennessee Smokies' Future?

 In 1999, minor league baseball failed in Knoxville, Tennessee. The team fled to Sevierville (about 30 minutes from downtown Knoxville) where it has a very nice modern stadium, good parking, and extremely easy access to and from the stadium. Benefiting from loyal Knoxvillians who make the drive out, a large tourist crowd from the Gatlinburg-Sevierville area, and a previously untapped market East of Smokies Stadium out to Kingsport and Johnson City and even into Far Southwestern Virginia,1 the team has flourished. 

Naturally, this means that Boyd Sports LLC has decided it must stab Sevierville in the back and put the Smokies back in Knoxville.

Things to Consider

(1) Boyd Sports may be moving this way because of a failing business model:  Boyd is one team short of a monopoly over professional baseball in Eastern Tennessee (lacking only one team of five). It's worked hard to get there and make this work - only to have MLB pull the rug out from under them with the Rookie League teams. It's not final yet, but it appears that the MLB is set on killing baseball in smaller cities in Eastern Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, Southern West Virginia, and even North Carolina by destroying the Appalachian League. This will take three teams (and their potential profits) away from Boyd. The reason Boyd Sports may be pushing desperately for this plan is a hope of recouping profits it will no longer make elsewhere.

(2) Randy Boyd is the President of UT. Almost certainly, part of the pitch will be that UT baseball can use the field too. Pay no attention to the fact that their current stadium is on campus, has more seats than it needs2, and just went through a major renovation. Shared stadiums work well for lower level teams and are usually on campus. A reversal of that will probably lead to fewer students actually going to games and maybe lower numbers period.

(3) It's doubtful that anyone will replace the Smokies in Sevierville. There was talk of putting a rookie league team there, but there's almost a 100% chance that the Appalachian League will be killed by MLB. Besides, it's too big a stadium for anything less than an Advanced A or AA team. Perhaps the best hope would be to draw in a team performing poorly where it is located currently. For instance the Hagerstown Suns have been limping along trying to sell to somebody ANYBODY for most of a decade now. However, if the Appalachian League is killed off, a new owner would likely be more interested in Greeneville (better stadium) or Johnson City (bigger crowds) as more appropriate venues for a Single-A team than an overly large, expensive to maintain stadium which will maybe draw half the crowds it did with the Smokies because people won't be coming out from Knoxville anymore. 

Maybe an independent league could be interested, but I think Sevierville is too far out of zone for the American Association or the Frontier League. The only real hope would be the Atlantic League. Sevierville is out of its regular zone, but so are the Skeeters (Texas) and to a lesser degree the Rockers (West-Central NC). So there might be some hope if a good enough ownership group and  pitch could be made.

(4) Boyd Sports will abandon maybe half its current fanbase with the move in the hopes of drawing the same number from making it easier for city dwellers to get there. After all, people on vacation in Gatlinburg-Sevierville generally aren't looking to drive into a city. What's more, as you get East of Sevierville it makes more sense to drive to Asheville to watch the Tourists instead of Knoxville. It's a shorter drive, it's a cheaper ticket with no charge for parking, and Asheville is a tourist destination with other things to do.

(5) Boyd Sports isn't solely concentrating on the number of fans in the stands. Obviously, I haven't seen their projections, but this picture tends to indicate that they plan to have hotels or apartments, stores, and restaurants as part of the stadium:

Picture Put Out by Boyd Sports

So, it seems that a large portion of their profits are intended to come from rental income. As usual, I'm sure this is being sold as "downtown revitalization." This is the big puff of modern stadium sellers. I've been to a number of these stadiums and they seem to be very hit and miss with my impression being that the numbers lean rather heavily toward the miss side.

Think about it. Why would you want to pay premium rates to rent a hotel room or an apartment when half the rooms face away from the field and most of the rest give you a poor view of it. And if you're trying to work or sleep the blaring from the PA system and the fireworks are not conducive. As for businesses, they'll pay premium rents and hope to make good money prior to and maybe after games. Their problem is that the stadium experience is designed to draw people into the stadium, keep them in the stadium, and to suck their money out of them while inside. Outside merchants usually catch crumbs.

Worse, for everyone, stadiums go dark from 01 September until mid-April and are dead half the time during the Summer. There may be events in that time, but during the summer they have to protect the field for the players and in the Winter an outdoor stadium gets too cold.

As I said, I've seen these stadiums and when I looked into the windows I saw an awful lot of empty rooms and business locations. Before Knoxville puts a lot of money into this it should talk to other cities. Plain old stadiums with all the bells and whistles inside for the fans seem a better plan (see Dayton, Nashville, Charlotte, Durham, Greenville, Birmingham etc.).

(6) It's going to happen. Owners have a ball club for three general reasons: (1) love of the game, (2) personal aggrandizement, and (3) profit. Mayors want baseball parks for three general reasons of their own: (1) as a prestige adornment for their city, (2) to "rebuild" troublesome areas in their city, and (3) political gain. Both ownership and the Knoxville government will most likely approach this with rose tinted glasses assuming everything will go swimmingly and make the city a better and richer place for all. And, with the possible exception of Gwinnet, there's always a honeymoon phase of about five years when a new team comes to town before the cracks start getting noticed. And there's always the possibility that they'll get it to work. Maybe.

As a practical matter, Boyd Sports has already bought the land for the new stadium, so something is going to happen. As well, the local fans know the owner is looking to betray them and the numbers are dropping. They'll probably continue to do so, although the numbers have been more resilient than I would have expected looking at attendance drops in Hagerstown or Richmond or other places. I think this is because a good portion of the fans are coming from Knoxville or are tourists in Gatlinburg-Sevierville just looking for a good night's entertainment. I don't know that we'll see the purposeful discouraging of attendance that sometimes happens when a team is moving, although I do expect the downward trend to continue. I know personally that I'll probably look more toward Asheville when next season opens than I have in the past. If the owner is going to yank the team, why should I support his pocketbook?


1  This would be me, but not only me. Everyone here is used to going to Gatlinburg/Dollywood for vacations. Driving a couple hours for a baseball game or including it as part of a weekend vacation is pretty normal.

2  4,283 seats. To put that in perspective, only the eleven highest attended college baseball programs of 2019 would need a bigger stadium. UT isn't even in the top 25. The 25th, NC State, averaged 2,596 people per game.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Fun Pickoff Play in the CPBL, a breakdown

The yellow team is the CTBC Brothers; the orange is the UniLions. This is part of the fun of watching this league and the others in Asia. It's sad to say, but the gravamen of the game is switching to Japan-Korea-Taiwan while the MLB is static (at best). It's interesting to watch when US teams play teams from Asia and it's obvious that the Asian teams are fundamentally better at basics and more rounded in all aspects of the game. Often, the USA will win on sheer talent, but when the MLB doesn't allow the top 40 from each organization to play internationally that becomes less certain and we lose to Japan, Korea, or AUSTRALIA.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Another Way to Score

Click on Pic to Enlarge
Boer player is running home when he realizes he ain't gonna make it. He turns and starts to book it back to third. He freezes when he sees the third baseman prepping to catch the ball and starts to turn back toward home and the throw from the catcher hits him mid turn. The angle he's turned at when hit sends the ball skittering across the field and the runner completes his turn and makes it home.

Pro tip: A runner hit by a thrown ball is not interference unless the runner purposefully does something to make it happen.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Countries Where They Love Baseball

One of these is from Korea, one from Taiwan, and one from Nicaragua. Each country is playing baseball.

You can play in fancy stadiums or functional stadiums. It's about love of the game and these folks all clearly love the sport.

Nicaragua Packs the Stands in Baseball

From Last night's game between Indios del Boer and Esteli. Part of the fun is watching baseball with fans in the stands.

It's not as glossy, it's not in English, and it's only on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Still, they're my favorite games to watch out there right now. Channels to check - YouTube: vivanicaragua13 (follows Boer) (always high quality) - FaceBook: Canal22via (follows Costa Caribe) (good quality, but some places they visit have poor internet up) - Facebook: Cogelasena (I think follows Chinandega Tigres) (low res).

Friday, May 8, 2020

Taiwan Lets Fans Back in Baseball

Today was the first day that the CPBL (Taiwanese Baseball) let fans back into their stadiums.

They let in 1,000 fans, no one could sit closer than two seats from another, and most of them were located in a loose X pattern. They didn't allow food in the stadium although apparently the restaurants outside the stadium were open. They did allow water because it's Taiwan and the high for the day was 90f.

It was fun watching them do the routines and I can't wait to see the stadiums full. They interviewed their top medical official during the game and he was talking about raising the number allowed per game to 2,000 pretty much immediately and higher soon.

And the home team Guardians won a great game to watch 7-6 over the UniLions. Go Guardians!!

Saturday, April 4, 2020

MLB Misses Its Shot

Why did I just sign up to stream the Chinese Professional Baseball League when it starts its games next weekend? Because it's professional baseball, only cost me $33, and the streaming fees I paid to both MLB and MiLB ain't getting me jack spit.

MLB has really missed the ball on this one.

Baseball is pretty much by definition THE social distancing sport. On the field at any given time are nine guys who are more than six feet apart. You add in a couple umps and at most four offensive players and it would be an extreme situation if five were ever close to one another. It could be done.

Of course, there'd have to be limitations. Go to a two ump system. Every one of those umps has worked a two ump system in the minors; they can do it again. No base coaches or any of the other fifty or so coaching and other non-player positions. In fact, let the manager manage via radio or phone and not be on the field. Ten players in the dugout and five in the bullpen (four pitchers and the backup catcher); when not pitching a pitcher goes back to the bullpen. Eliminate the designated hitter so there is need for one less player. Travel by two smaller charter planes or *GASP* by a couple buses each with less than ten people. I'd suggest your eight starters, four pitchers, backup catcher, and two utility players. Add in the manager and a couple guys to prep equipment ('cuz there ain't no way MLB players remember how to wash uniforms and stack bats). Use two locker rooms per team that do not connect. It could be done.

And yet, it's not.

Imagine if MLB delayed its opening a week or two in order to let some of the furor die down and then opened in empty stadiums as the only sport on television or the only sport playing period. THE ONLY SPORT.

And yet, it didn't.

Why not? Well, I think they were still hoping to have their big opening day which makes them lots of money and they don't like the idea of playing in empty stadiums because they think it will make a bad image (because fans can't possibly understand they're empty because of the disease not low attendance). Basically, this fits in with the reason the MLB always has problems in modern times: the management is incapable of long term thinking. We've all seen really stupid things going on like rules changes which make the game worse in order to shorten it 5 or 6 minutes, picking an unneeded fight with their minor leagues with the intention of abandoning baseball fans around the country, not fixing their draft selection process so that a third of the teams will stop tanking every year, not fixing the flaws in the game proceeding (quite logically) from sabermetrics (increase the strike zone and move the fences back), and the leagues should have long ago expanded into several cities (Charlotte, Nashville, Montreal, and maybe even Mexico City). They were probably also gun shy. No matter when they open there will be a portion of the public which screams bloody murder and the press will be stalking them for the first team to have someone come down with the disease.

During the 1916 Polio epidemic (a Summer epidemic), baseball played.

President Wilson throwing out 1st pitch on opening day: Senators v. Yankees

During the 1918-19 Spanish flu epidemic, baseball played.

1918 World Series
In modern times, when we have far better capacity to protect those playing and we know better than to let people crowd the stadiums, could they play? Sure they could. They won't.

And that may be a good thing. They may be making the right call. It's hard to balance out the real threat of the disease against the more ephemeral need of uplifting events to build and maintain morale against the panic caused by the disease and the concern for the economic damage of the imposed solution.

In the meantime, I'll be rooting for the Fubon Guardians.