With the El Paso Diablos (independent; American Association) on the market and many in the city not wanting to put any money into Cohen Stadium unless affiliated ball is in the offing, the future of the team is far from assured.
Owner Mark Schuster and Ventura Sports have the team on the market. In the meantime, needed improvements to Cohen Stadium are on hold pending new owners. GM Matt LaBranche has some modest improvements in mind — upgraded restrooms, a better playing field — but for anything major, indy ball may be a hard sell for millions in ballpark changes funded by the city.
As this article makes clear, there are plenty in the city pining for the original Texas League Diablos, the affiliated team owned and run by Jim Paul. That team ended up in Springfield, Mo. after Brett Sports took over from Paul, and there’s perhaps a little mythologizing from some in the city about the affiliated days: Paul was an aggressive promoter — a visionary in that respect — who relied heavily on ticket and item giveaways to draw crowds. It was not a sustainable business model (there is a reason why Paul sold the team), and neither Brett Sports or Ventura Sports chose to follow that business model. It’s an approach that seems to be working: the team is a solid draw (3,738 fans a game in 2010), despite playing in a 10,000-seat ballpark way too big for their needs.
But affiliated ball isn’t coming back soon, at least to the current Cohen Stadium, There was some talk about El Paso landing the relocating Portland Beavers (Class AAA; Pacific Coast League) before the team landed in Tucson, but it’s hard to tell how serious that talk was. Officials say they’d love to bring in another Pacific Coast League or Texas League team, but we don’t see that happening anytime soon. Right now independent ball is the only game in town, and it’s being run in a credible manner, despite Paul’s opinion that indy ball will die in El Paso. “Independent baseball is a tough sell,” he told the El Paso Times. “It’s hard baseball to make money off of. It’s a long ways to go to try to sell the names of cities coming in.”
Part of the issue may be realistic expectations. Folks in El Paso argue that their city is actually the largest market in the United States without affiliated ball, outpacing the likes of Portland, Oregon. But that depends on a rather silly interpretation of the statistics, focusing on the core Portland population and ignoring the suburbs: the greater Portland Metropolitan Statistical Area (as ranked in U.S. Census figures) population comes in at 2,241,841 in 2009 rankings; El Paso comes in at 751,296. When you look at MSAs, there are other cities lacking any sort of baseball, much less affiliated ball, that are larger than El Paso: New Haven, Orlando, Honolulu. El Paso is a major market, to be sure, but it’s not perceived as being especially affluent and maybe not as alluring as locals assume.
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