John Klein: After years of shifting, Texas League experiences stability
BY JOHN KLEIN Senior Sports Columnist
Friday, June 29, 2012
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Go to John Klein's Blog Original Print Headline: Stable Texas League finds way to flourish
There is virtually no chance for Texas League expansion or movement of franchises in the foreseeable future, and the league's eight franchises are all, according to the league's president, doing "extremely well, perhaps as well as at any time in our history."
Texas League president Tom Kayser said he does not anticipate any movement that would change the current eight-city lineup in the league.
After a period of shifting franchises, which resulted in the loss of Texas League cities like Wichita, El Paso, Shreveport and Jackson, there appears to be a new era of stability and booming attendance.
"If you look at every aspect in our league, we are in a very good position," said Kayser. "Actually, I can't imagine a better time for our league since the post-World War II era when minor leagues were flourishing everywhere.
"We are in very good markets, markets that seem to be doing well economically and supporting baseball very well. In addition, we have new facilities in just about all of those markets. And, most important, we have very stable ownership in those markets. This is a very good period of time for the Texas League."
The Texas League has gone through a period of transition and now may be among the most stable, if not the most stable, minor leagues in baseball.
Through the first two months of the season, the Texas League was averaging about 5,000 fans per game. That's more than 1,000 more than either of baseball's other two Double-A leagues.
Frisco leads the league in attendance with 7,638 per game (entering the all-star break). Tulsa is second at 5,805.
By comparison, the top attendance in the Eastern League is Richmond at 6,106. Pensacola tops the Southern League at 4,901.
Last year, four teams in the Texas League averaged over 5,000 per game (Round Rock, Tulsa, Corpus Christi and Springfield).
Northwest Arkansas is averaging 4,973, which is remarkable considering the Naturals' home ballpark is less than 10 miles from Baum Stadium, home of the Arkansas Razorbacks. The Razorbacks averaged 7,924 per game this spring, second best in college baseball.
"There are a lot of factors in attendance, such as ballpark, weather, etc., but all of our franchises are doing very well," said Kayser. "We have no complaints.
"I think a lot of that is attributed to the great ownership in our league. Those owners have developed those markets and provided a good product, including ballparks."
In addition, because of shifting franchises to new markets, the league is blessed with deluxe new facilities in virtually every city. San Antonio's baseball stadium is the oldest (19 years).
The other stadiums in the league are 10 years or younger.
ONEOK Field, where the Texas League All-Star Game was held Thursday night, is among the most deluxe and luxurious in all of the minor leagues.
"There was a time when we used to take people to Round Rock to show them what was possible in minor league baseball stadium construction," said Kayser. "Now, we bring those folks to Tulsa.
"Everything about ONEOK Field is great. It has become what the folks here in Tulsa had envisioned, an anchor at one end of a downtown revitalization. It has spurred all kinds of excitement in that area of Tulsa. In addition, the facility is fabulous for both the players and the fans. It is beautiful and has a beautiful view for the fans."
It has long been rumored the Texas League may be ripe for expansion if the big leagues want more Double-A level teams in the west.
However, there are few options.
"If you are expanding this league, it would need to be by multiples of four," said Kayser. "Having a 10-team league in our situation just isn't a very real possibility.
"So, the question becomes where do you go to find those expansion markets? Right now, major league baseball has no interest in shifting minor league numbers, and I don't know where we would go if they wanted to do that."
None of the cities that lost Texas League franchises in recent years appear to be prime possibilities for a return to the Texas League. Jackson suburb Pearl is struggling in the Southern League. Shreveport has an independent league team.
Wichita has a large enough population base, but the possible loss of jobs affiliated with Boeing has Wichita's future up in the air.
El Paso, because of the way the Texas League has shifted into Missouri and Northwest Arkansas to go with Tulsa, may no longer be in the geographic footprint of the league.
There are persistent rumors that a Houston suburb (possibly Sugar Land), similar to Frisco, would be a prime location.
However, the Triple-A Pacific Coast League also is interested in a Houston suburban location and perhaps even El Paso.
"I would describe us right now as a very happy eight-team league," said Kayser. "I believe this is what we're going to be for years to come."