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O'Conner's Opening Session speech

MiLB president and CEO delivers Meetings welcome
December 9, 2013

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Good morning. Let me add my welcome to the 2013 Baseball Winter Meetings and trade show. This week will be filled with business, pleasure, fellowship and team building as we close the book on 2013 and look ahead to the new season. Each year at these meetings we gather to reflect on the past and plan for our future. It is as we plan for the future that we need to be at the top of our game.

Navigating today's environment is not easy. Dealing with the multitude of issues we face on a daily basis makes it harder and harder to forecast, plan and execute a sound business model. To your credit, you did it again in 2013 and I am confident we will work through the 2014 season with equal expertise and success. But as I said, it will not be easy.

The business environment for small businesses, and we are a rather large collection of small businesses, has been complicated by the socio-economic and socio-political stressors of today's America. Unlike any other time in our history we must deal with troubling issues on a daily basis. The days of selling tickets, ads and promotions in the off-season and opening the gates in April are far behind us. While still critically important, those functions have been joined by our teams dealing with healthcare, the economy, wage and hour concerns, technology, terrorism, demographics and others.

Today we face the increasing cost, widespread confusion and mounting frustration of a national healthcare system undergoing a historical change. Unless and until we get clarity on the legal requirements of the Affordable Care Act, we will tread water with great uncertainty on our lawful obligation and financial commitment to employee healthcare. Minor League Baseball's healthcare initiative enters its third year with stability in pricing and coverage to the greatest extent possible in this environment. John Scotti and Team Scotti have been instrumental in developing our program and we are grateful. We are on the leading edge of providing insurance to our employees in these uncertain times. Uncertainty is terrible for business, but we will see this through. It will not be easy, but we will do it.

We continue to deal in an economy lacking stability, direction and consumer confidence. As we battle higher costs of goods and operations, I am extremely proud of your commitment to keeping our prices affordable, attractive and competitive in the marketplace. We are forced to keep a constant eye on the P-and-L while not compromising quality. We are experiencing growth in our business while other sectors are still being forced to deal with recessionary conditions. It was brought to my attention last week that our fans spent over $50-million on licensed merchandise last year and since 2000 our program revenues have risen 63%. It is not easy to maintain this kind of consistent commitment and impressive growth, but we do it.

Since September 11, 2001, we have had to include fan safety and anti-terrorist thinking into our business model at new, higher levels. Our experience shows us we can never turn our attention away from the threats we face at home and our brave men and women of the military face on foreign soil. It is humbling to know we as an industry protect our own at home and honor our heroes when they return to us. It is not always easy to maintain this vigilance, but we do it.

As we all know, technology is an ever-changing, fast paced world where we have been forced to compete. Communication, knowledge and information are governed by technology. The, MiLB.TV and platforms continue to impress and keep us in the fight for the technologically astute. Kudos to our partners at Major League Baseball Advance Media for leading the way and believing in Minor League Baseball as a partner in promoting professional baseball around the world. And as Stan pointed out, technological advances can also threaten our very existence. You may be called on to assist our efforts in Washington as we deal with lawmaker's attempt to deal with piracy, copyrights and trademark protections. The changes in technology require investment in human, political and capital resources and it is not always easy to keep pace, but we do it. Our subsidiary BIRCO has evolved into a multi-million dollar digital asset which provides unparalleled editorial content to millions of fans each year. Rest assured, we will look to Congress and the courts to protect our rights and our assets as we move forward.

As I age I wonder, and yes even worry, about maintaining relevance with the younger generation. I clearly see the generational differences in the world today and realize the importance of maintaining contact with the larger demographic. Today's "microwave society" not only wants, but demands, to be entertained, educated and moved emotionally. Today's millenniums represent our future and it is not always easy to attract, engage and retain them as fans, but, better than most sports, we do it. Going forward I see a critical need, greater than ever before, for us to embrace Minor League Baseball's diversity initiative. We must begin to act now so we will be positioned to deal with America's changing demographic in the future. This is not easy, but we have to do it to ensure ourselves a prosperous future.

We shine in our communities. In virtually every case, we help define our communities and our communities help define us. With our business model we drive local economies while providing employment for tens of thousands of people across the country. Over 41-million people passed through our turnstiles taking in the wholesome family entertainment we offer 152 days each year. We reach America, from coast-to-coast, in every region of the country.

We represent what is good and wholesome in America today. We are good for business. We are good for community. We are good for the soul. We lift spirits and help those in need. Local charitable efforts, as well as MiLB Charities, provide millions of dollars of support around the country. We have two special guests with us today that illustrate all that is good about professional baseball's heart. The Baseball Assistance Team, known as BAT, provides much-needed assistance to members of our extended baseball family. Today, representing BAT, we are joined by Erik Nilsen. Erik is here this week to spread the word about BAT's program, its good work and its participation with all of professional baseball. Welcome Erik.

Also in attendance is a very special guest, Eli Tiller. I met Eli at the Richmond Flying Squirrels' hot stove dinner last January. A Miracle League player, Eli is an inspirational example of grit, determination, faith and a never-give-up attitude. Eli is here this week as my guest to enjoy the Baseball Winter Meetings and spend Wednesday at one of his favorite places in the world, Disney World. Joining Eli are his parents, John and Tricia Tiller. Please help me welcome Eli and the Tiller family.

And before I close, I would like to call attention to a special project underway here in Orlando. Ed Randall's charitable foundation, Fans For The Cure, will be doing free prostate cancer screenings in the Chandler Bats Welcome Center at The Baseball Trade Show. I encourage each and every male here today to go by the trade show and be screened or learn more about prostate cancer awareness. Clubs can sign up for ballpark screenings this coming season and learn how to protect the family, friends and fans we all love so much.

I wish each of you a safe, productive and pleasurable week here in Orlando. I look forward to spending time with as many of you as possible. God bless you and God bless America.