4 AUGUST 2016 - MLB DESERTS ABL BUT BASEBALL
RETURNS TO OLYMPICS
For those of us who have feared the
worst for the long-term future of the Australian Baseball League over recent
seasons, we awoke to the sobering news that Major League Baseball has
decided to officially withdraw its financial support for our national
league. At the same time we were uplifted by confirmation that baseball (and
softball) will be restored as summer Olympic sports from Tokyo 2020.
So, after six seasons, one more than
their original commitment, USA's mighty major league baseball has finally
decided that it can no longer significantly bankroll our Australian Baseball
League as it continues to be a funding headache for those fine people who
have tried and tried to make our game a financially viable proposition. It
has been published that MLB was providing something like 75% of the league's
funding, so it will be extremely difficult to replace in the short and the
long term, to say the least.
People like 'Flintoff & Dunn', who
still have vivid memories of how the original ABL struggled through the
1990's, cannot really be surprised that our beloved game of baseball still
faces an uphill battle to survive on a national league platform as a "niche
sport" on a congested and highly competitive Australian sporting landscape.
Initial indications are that Baseball
Australia will largely fund the ABL for the 2016/17 season with a reduced
40-game schedule, while private ownership models will be the likely
objective for the ongoing future of the league. Unfortunately, that is a
something that has a rather familiar ring to it and a rather painful one for
those loyal owners and part-owners who invested their hard earned in the
original league as a "labour of love" more so than holding out any hope of
even breaking even. The league was a very good baseball league and a
terrific sporting product, but making it profitable was a task beyond
the capability of even the most astute business investors.
Of course, for the good of the sport
and our National League, 'Flintoff & Dunn' will always be optimistic that a
magic wand of some description can be found to give our national league the
longevity we need, yet we will all be kidding ourselves if we think that
this will be easy. The fact that MLB could not provide the necessary impetus
to put our current ABL on a path to a more certain long-term future is
another body blow to national league baseball in this country and,
unfortunately, a salient warning to prospective investors.
However, there should not be total
"doom and gloom" for those of us who still crave national level competition.
If all else fails there was very little wrong with the last incarnation of
our Claxton Shield competition in the 2010 format that immediately preceded
the current ABL. We could do worse than return to that model.
As for the restoration of baseball as
a summer Olympic Games sport... this is simply about time! In our view it
was a genuine travesty when a traditional and long-standing Olympic sport
like baseball was excluded from the Olympic games program chiefly because it
was "too hard" for some countries to provide suitable venues. It was always
highly likely that baseball would return when the Olympics were awarded to a
nation with a baseball heritage and, clearly, Japan fits that description.
While this is very good news for Australian baseballers who can aspire to
represent their country in Olympic competition, there is some query as to
how this competition will find itself a "point of difference" from the World
Baseball Classic if it is open to all levels of professional baseball. Time
We will watch these future
developments with great interest.