It sounds like independent Northern League Commissioner Clark Griffith was working the phones fast and furiously this past week, seeking to augment the four teams remaining in the circuit with expansion teams and maybe even some refugees from the independent Frontier League.
A quiet week was actually pretty good news for Griffith: it mean that the remaining four teams — Rockford RiverHawks, Lake County Fielders, Joliet JackHammers and Schaumburg Flyers are still in business as a league and could play next season with those teams or potentially with other teams. Omaha has been targeted as a potential expansion target, and there have been talks between an investor group and the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority, which will run TD Ameritrade Park, for a Northern League team. (How advanced these discussions have been depends on who you ask; at $10,000/game baseline lease and MECA controlling many of the revenue streams, bringing indy ball to TD Ameritrade Park is highly problematic, and MECA may be a little overoptimistic about the financial attractiveness of an indy team playing in a 24,000-seat ballpark when there’s also Triple-A ball and the actual College World Series in the market.) Still, stranger things have happened.
Add to that the potential of adding up to four teams from the independent Frontier League (which seems unlikely, though Griffith has definitely worked that angle), and you have a volatile mix.
If you believe what the Omaha paper is writing — and don’t take it as gospel truth; the Omaha paper has been pretty unreliable regarding other teams playing at TD Ameritrade Park for years now, going back to news coverage pooh-poohing the notion that the Omaha Royals would leave for Sarpy County — it does point out the biggest challenge Griffith faces: assuring potential investors and lessors that the league will be around next season. It’s a chicken-and-egg argument: MECA officials say they’re not too hot on a lease with a Northern League team until they’re assured of the league’s future, while signing an Omaha would go a long ways toward assuring other investors that the league is solid. The same goes with Joliet: the inability of Peter Ferro to close a deal with a potential buyer is a double-edged sward for Griffith: if the JackHammers declare bankruptcy, it basically ices Silver Cross Field for a year. We do hear a deal is close in Joliet — but like so many of the other deals floating around in indy ball this offseason, whether it happens all depends on who you ask.
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