All the speculation over a mega-independent league over the last few weeks ended up true, as principals with three indy leagues announced the formation of the North American League tonight. The announcement, alas, was a little short on specifics, and we suspect there's more fine-tuning coming down the pike.
For starters, the press release says that all existing Northern League, Golden Baseball League and United League teams would be part of the new league, but that's not true: the status of the Joliet JackHammers (currently part of the Northern League) is certainly in doubt, as Joliet officials again pledged to work to place that team in the Frontier League. And the press announcement promises "16-20 teams in multiple countries and cover many of the major markets in the U.S. and Canada in 2011 with expansion already set for 2012."
Here are the teams involved: From the Northern League, the Rockford RiverHawks, the Schaumburg Flyers, the Lake County Fielders and (as of now) the Joliet JackHammers. From United League Baseball: the Coastal Bend Thunder, the Edinburg Roadrunners, the San Angelo Colts and the RGV WhiteWings. From Golden League Baseball: the Orange County Flyers, the Edmonton Capitals, the Calgary Vipers, the Maui Na Koa Ikaika, the Chico Outlaws (assuming a lease is worked out) and perhaps a new team, the Tijuana Ambassadors (Embajadores), as GBL officials were down there a few weeks ago to check things out. That's 14, and there's a chance the new circuit could pick up teams in Omaha, where Northern League commissioner Clark Griffith has been working on a deal, and Yuma.
The rest of the press release:
Except for Major League Baseball, it will be the largest professional league in terms of number of teams and geographies and amongst the top minor leagues in terms of attendance. The existing leagues will keep their names and their baseball operations structure while consolidating and enhancing a number of business activities and will adhere to a single and consistent set of league operating by-laws.
"This is an exciting opportunity for the teams of these three leagues", said Kevin Outcalt, Chief Executive of Diamond Sports & Entertainment, the company that owns and operates the Golden League and will administer the North American League. "This will provide more value to our marketing and business partners, more exposure for our players to advance their careers, and increased excitement and fun for the fans of all of our ballclubs. In addition, the business advantages of league-wide advertising and sponsor revenue, collective/volume purchasing to lower costs, and shared best practices amongst the teams in the league should drive additional profitability for the North American League member clubs."
The structure of the NAL will be set up with the three original leagues covering their respective regions where the teams will play approximately 75% of their games within their region and 25% outside their region/division. This will be followed by playoffs that will conclude with a North American Championship Series. It is anticipated that the league will play a 92-100 game regular season schedule that will be determined at the inaugural NAL meetings that will be held in northern California at the end of this month. All of the existing Golden League, Northern League, and United League teams will be part of the circuit, and it is expected that additional teams will be announced in the coming weeks as well. The full slate of 2011 NAL teams and the makeup of each region will be announced following the league meeting. Baseball related playing rules will also be finalized including player classification/eligibility and playing rules (National League or American League).
"This is an excellent move for the Northern League," said Northern League Commissioner Clark Griffith. "By becoming part of this new league, we will enjoy benefits that can't be found anywhere else in minor league baseball and some exciting opportunities that were never available in the Northern League in the past."
Although these three leagues totaled 35% of the professional independent minor league baseball teams in North America in 2010, they were responsible for placing half of the players on the Baseball America Indy Top Prospects list and six of the fourteen players named to the all Independent Leagues First Team by Baseball America. In addition, the three leagues have sold 35 player contracts to major league organizations so far in 2010 and are all recognized as an important source of baseball talent including players, umpires, coaches/managers, and front office/business personnel by big league clubs.
Byron Pierce, United League president, stated, "The United League is pleased to announce it is becoming part of North American League Baseball. By doing so the United League will be able to bring a national presence and the rich tradition of three leagues to each of our United League cities, while maintaining our regional rivalries and identity."
RELATED STORIES: Joliet city officials to lobby at Frontier League meetings; Joliet throws monkey wrench in league mergers; New for 2011: North American League; Three indy leagues joining forces for 2011?; Seals: Canaries in the coal mine?
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