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Should Sports Leagues Be More Protective Of Fans And Markets?

While minor league teams have folded in certain markets several times over, that doesn’t stop the parent league or its ownership groups on the expansion committee from eying that market as “viable” despite what misdeeds were carried on by the last expansion owners who likely poisoned the market before leaving for another city or folding operations.

All of this begs the question of whether the parent league that authorized the expansion team into the market should provide more “care” to that market’s stakeholders after the team departs or ceases to continue.

Perhaps more “care” could be set-up in a way to ensure that “market” isn’t forever off of the books for that league or sport, specifically because season ticket holders and corporate sponsors were brow-beat a decade prior when the last great franchise either move into the area or became an expansion franchise.

Is it wrong to suggest that a league has a responsibility to a market, as well as to its own future survival, to ensure that those who invested in that expansion franchise, as well as the league’s brand, aren’t harmed in the process of a team being dissolved? This isn’t just a question of ensuring enough scheduling protocols to adjust for a team folding mid-season to allow the rest of the league members to operate. This is about keeping a market, as well as its fan base and corporate supporters, from being forever poisoned by the idea of ever investing in the league or another future franchise again.

Think about what a team, which ceases operations or departs after four seasons, can mean to a community that has invested and supported it both financially and with its time.

This isn’t just a discussion about ensuring some season or individual ticket holders are refunded, but also the corporate sponsorship and media rights, concessionaires and merchandisers – basically anyone who may have unpaid invoices or advanced money to the team for a product that was never delivered upon.

Any league or current ownership group on an expansion committee that doesn’t take this matter seriously is allowing a breach of trust to grow into a sick poison of that market. Future league revenues, sometimes created by the investment of an expansion franchise being bid on by new owners, may dry up if the league and its membership gains the reputation of never paying their bills. That happens when a team goes out of existence and that community sees empty, unfulfilled promises on season tickets sold, arena renovations and corporate sponsorship.

This issue really stems from the idea of what happens after a team suspends operations or exits town for a new market. The league should have a S.W.A.T. team that comes in immediately, looks over every invoice, and ensures that no one feels burned by the team’s departure. If there are season ticket holders to be refunded and that team operation isn’t able/willing to refund them, the league should step in and do it. The same with any corporate sponsor or media affiliate, along with all other contracts by outside vendors.

The entire balance of league expansion, as well as the league’s brand reputation, is at stake for how the community perceives its product especially after a franchise had departed town if bills have been left unpaid.

Funny thing is, some leagues and ownership groups will laugh at this notion, even though they’ve already been burned by the inability to create a protection for their brand. There have been several instances of teams during the last 10 years that have tried to move out of one market and into another, only the find that their top alternative market isn’t interesting in housing them. Why? Because that “top market” was poisoned by a league and franchise that left town with a bunch of unpaid bills as well. Now, getting back in is harder, because that market and its community leadership hasn’t forgotten “about the last time.”

All of this becomes a point of suffering for the league and any expansion franchises that want to move to a more viable market. Once a market has been poisoned, its hard to gain that trust back again. It all comes down to whether that past operation or parent league provided as much “care” to the community caught in the departure. Chances are, the parent league didn’t, nor did the folding/moving operation, and that’s where the market becomes sick with poisoned feelings toward that product.

Most minor league franchises average less than 5,000 per contest. Half of them exist on group tickets with about 700-800 season tickets. That seems doable enough if that if there is a refund that needs to take place, the parent league should use some of the buy-in money provided by the expansion ownership group when purchasing the franchise.

Some of this goes back to how much investment the league and expansion committee of owners puts into investigating those bidding on the new franchise. Typically, the focus goes on whether or not the prospective owner can afford the franchise fee, less on whether or not they are capable of running a franchise at all. Sports business acumen should be one of the top priorities for a league when looking at whether or not an ownership group is viable to buy-in on the brand.

Unfortunately, sports business acumen (actual experience, marketing, promotion and revenue concepts) get lost in the art of making a deal for an expansion franchise. That’s generally why franchises fail, and why leagues suffer because of them. But the community shouldn’t suffer as well, and that is a league responsibility above all else.

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