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MiLB facility guidelines released; owners sanguine

Minor League Baseball logoMiLB owners and execs were issued proposed facility standards by Major League Baseball, but what was feared as extensive changes to ballparks ended up being a noncontroversial laundry list of modest updates.

Our worst fears lie in anticipation, of course, and so the new facilities guidelines — billed by Major League Baseball as a prime reason why they undertook to take over Minor League Baseball, to have the freedom to mandate facility guidelines in order to protect their investments in highly paid prospects — were anticipated by some owners as being this huge, terrible thing. Indeed, some owners see the whole MLB/MiLB split as dating back to the earliest days of PBA negotiations, when talk of enhanced facilities was unequivocally rejected by MiLB officials.

So when the new guidelines came down, owners we talked with were expecting something drastic. Instead, they receive guidelines limited to the player side that many ballparks (and virtually any newer ballpark) already meet in some respects, especially ballparks built in the last decade. MLB’s insistence on improved ballparks in the 1990 PBA is seen by many observers as fueling the growth in Minor League Baseball over the last 30 years: they gave teams reasons to ask municipalities for improved ballparks, and they significantly enhanced the ballpark experience for fans. Indeed, the ballpark guidelines cover a wide range of ballpark specs, getting into details like the required number of toilets in fan bathrooms.

But what MLB issued last week is focused on the player side and include specs like these:

  • Clubhouses for both home and visiting teams must be 1,000 square feet or larger. Again, most newer ballparks already feature larger home clubhouses; the issue for many teams will be expanding visitor clubhouses. The clubhouses must also feature improved lockers.
  • Nutrition is now emphasized for many organizations, some of whom send out their own food-prep staff and don’t rely on team for the post-game buffet. That’s why you see food-prep and dining areas for both home and visiting clubhouses as a new spec. The challenge here will be carving out the space out of existing office and storage space.
  • Better field lighting. This is an easy sell: installing the next generation of LED lights will both save money on daily usage and improve the player experience. The installation of new LED lights can be done with existing stanchions in some cases. This is not a new trend; newer ballparks feature LED lighting, and beginning several years ago teams like the Lowell Spinners installed LED lighting.
  • Better training facilities for players. That means weight rooms and two pitching/batting tunnels. Many newer ballparks, like Hodgetown, feature indoor batting cages directly on the concourse. In Fort Wayne, the indoor batting cages at Parkview Field are a draw even when there’s not a game going on. Now, these batting cages don’t need to be located directly on the concourse–but for teams with flexible space, they may be a nice upgrade.
  • Separate spaces for female staffers. Welcome to the modern world, Minor League Baseball.

This is not a total list of proposed upgrades, but these are the major initiatives.

Why sanguine? By and large, these are not going to be costs borne by MiLB team owners, but rather by ballpark municipal owners. Generally speaking, municipalities pay for permanent physical improvements–like the ones listed here–and teams play for physical improvements that can be removed. Converting some team office space or storage rooms into an extended clubhouse or a food-prep area may be a pain, but not an insurmountable challenge, to be sure. These are the costs of doing business. (Indeed, here’s a look at how one owner is handling the changes in a very matter-of-fact manner.)

Of course, not every owner we talked with about these standards was happy with the proposed player-experience upgrades, but in our experience there are two kinds of owners: those who love tinkering with their ballparks on a yearly basis and see this as a cool challenge, and those who like things the way they are and would rather not mess with ballpark changes. But even owners operating in older facilities requiring more work to meet the standards did not see these proposals as huge challenges.

Now, the expectation here is that these are just the initial improvements; other improvements down the pike will involve things like additional remote cameras in the batting cages. Those costs would need to be directly borne by team owners.

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