An era of baseball field fireworks shows, bobbleheads and mascot photos might be nearing its end.
On August 16, the Unified Government sent an eviction notice to the Kansas City T-Bones, ordering the 15-year-old minor league ballclub to pack up and leave their Kansas City, Kansas, stadium by Sept. 13 after failing to pay over $700,000 in utility and lease payments.
They’re not alone: The Joplin Miners’ lease was terminated in February, and the River City Rascals in St. Louis announced in August that they’re disbanding after their 2019 season. Together the three teams represent nearly half of the seven minor league ball teams in Kansas and Missouri.
Is there a future for minor league baseball in the region?
Thomas Rhoads, professor of economics at Towson University and author of The Call Up to the Majors, isn’t sure. He says that both the T-Bones and the Rascals had a seemingly perfect market.
“It’s pretty much an ideal location, the Rascals being right by St. Louis and the Kansas City T-Bones being right in Kansas City and next to a bunch of other sports places,” Rhoads says, noting the stadium’s proximity to the speedway and MLS stadium.
But Rhoads says baseball is struggling. MLB attendance is down, and minor league baseball is following.
“The game is a lot slower than a lot of millenials are wanting,” Rhoads says.
Meanwhile, Nola Agha, professor of sports management at the University of San Francisco, is less surprised. She points out that all three of the clubs that collapsed were independent businesses, unaffiliated with a major league club. On average, independent teams only stay in one spot for 4.5 years, according to Agha, who penned her dissertation on the link between minor league baseball attendance and economic impact.
“There’s much more stability in the affiliated league,” Agha says, pointing out that affiliated teams tend to stay put for 13 to 19 years. “It’s a fairly brief business. Most of the time, the money that you’re making is by holding the team and maybe breaking even for 10 years and then selling it.”
Independent leagues are pushing forward by experimenting with new technology like robot umpires and omitting pitcher’s mound visits, but Agha says having a major league club in Kansas City probably doomed the T-Bones.
“I want to watch a World Series team for $7 as opposed to two independent league teams,” Rhoads says.
T-Bones By the Numbers
$12 million What the Ehlert family says it paid to privately finance the building of the T-Bones ballpark in 2003 when it moved from Duluth, Minnesota
$8 million Amount that the Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City paid to buy the stadium from the Ehlerts in 2014. The Ehlerts became tenants.
$1,678 Monthly lease that the Unified Government charged the Ehlerts
$762,734.40 Debt the team has accumulated to the Unified Government
45 Number of monthly lease payments missed out of 48
21 Minutes it takes to drive from downtown Kansas City to the T-Bones ballpark. It takes 11 to drive to Kauffman Stadium.
$6.50 Cost of a general admission ticket to see the T-Bones and Sioux City Explorers
$4 Cost of an upper deck ticket to see the Royals play the Oakland Athletics