The latest from Omaha, where the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority says it’s working hard to bring an independent American Association team into a new ballpark: AA commissioner Miles Wolff loves the idea of playing in a 24,000-seat ballpark, while Omaha Royals President Alan Stein wonders whether staying in the market is a good idea.Who knew there would be such baseball drama in Omaha, where Miles Wolff and Alan Stein — two of the more engaging personalities in the baseball world — are fighting it out tooth and nail to see who can capture a market housing 15,500 millionaires?
OK, so maybe it’s not that dramatic. But it’s fascinating to see how the market is playing out for baseball in Omaha after Stein and the Omaha Royals (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League) walked away from a proposed lease at the new downtown College World Series ballpark, saying it couldn’t yield enough revenue for their needs.
But apparently it can generate enough revenue for the needs of an independent team, according to American Association commissioner Miles Wolff, who isn’t at all intimidated with the prospect of an indy team play before 20,000 or so empty seats on a nightly basis. Hey, throw down a tarp or two and things will be just fine. And MECA can tell people they’re working to fill the ballpark all summer long, allowing them to save a little face after the unexpected rejection by the O-Royals.
And why shouldn’t Wolff be optimstic? He’s a smart guy. He has nothing to lose by being the useful tool of MECA officials miffed that the Royals walked away. An expansion fee is $750,000, and if a potential owner wants to put that and a million more into setting up an operation so the Lincoln Saltdogs have a handy foe, so be it.
As for Stein: Well, maybe that idea of playing in Sarpy County isn’t looking so good after all with another team in downtown Omaha. Maybe it’s time to dust off the old Rolodex and see how the folks in Sugar Land are doing. Or Vancouver. Or Tucson.
All kidding aside: it’s pretty clear two teams can’t survive in a market the size of Omaha, no matter how many millionaires reside there. Indy ball and affiliated ball have never survived in the same midsized market; the last time it was tried — Jackson, Miss. — the Central League team folded after suffering through a year of losses. (And the Golden Baseball League guys were smart enough to leave Reno after the arrival of the Reno Aces.) Judging from chats we’ve had recently with American Association owners, they know that, and their efforts are predicated on the Royals deciding to bail on the market. Indeed, the Omaha Royals are a pretty fungible asset right now, given they’re basically a free agent with more than half the county as a potential home. If the O-Royals were to close tomorrow on a Sarpy County ballpark, we’re guessing Miles would be a lot less enthusiastic about those 20,000 empty seats.