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Pat O'Conner's Opening Session speech

MiLB President opens Baseball Winter Meetings
December 7, 2009
INDIANAPOLIS -- Good morning and welcome to Indianapolis for the 2009 Baseball Winter Meetings. I hope you enjoy your stay here this week and find time to enjoy this great city.

I would like to start this morning by congratulating you on the 2009 season. Despite the economy and tough weather we battled all season, 2009 may very well be one of the best seasons we have had in many years. The financial statements may reflect otherwise, but I can honestly say I have never been more proud of what Minor League Baseball stands for, what we can do, how we developed our sense of community, than I am over the 2009 season. As an organization, we embraced our communities, offered that safe place for social gathering and fine tuned our operations to deal with the unique circumstances of 2009.

Despite some financial hardships, in no way did we back off our commitments to major league baseball, our players and, most importantly, our fans.

Our pre-season struggles of a year ago were overcome with perseverance, strong game day ticket sales and healthy in-park attendance figures. The fall off in corporate support in the suites, groups and picnic areas were offset by the grassroots fan support and recognition by our fans that we offer the best value for the entertainment dollar of all family options.

As we look ahead, there are several things to learn from our recent past. The economic condition of this country appears to be stabilizing, but we still face a long road back. In the coming year, we face double-digit unemployment in many of our cities. We face stiffer competition for dwindling discretionary income. Our corporate partners continue to struggle to gain solid footing in this new environment. And, we have pending legislation in Washington that could change the way all of America does business.

Regardless of those outside influences we face, we have the business model to deal with this new environment. Regardless of the stressors we face, we have a faithful fan base willing to stick with their hometown team. Regardless of the overall economic health of the nation, we have the business model to make 2010 a memorable year for Minor League Baseball.

However, as we move forward it is important to realize a few things.

As ESPN's John Walsh said, "The American sports business is cashing in on the adult American love of sports that was built on $5 tickets to major league games 30 years ago."

In simplest terms, we face a challenging future for a multitude of reasons. We are facing a tough economy, escalating costs and strained revenue streams. Within the current business model, we have the ability to grow our business. But we cannot achieve this growth by raising prices to the existing customer base.

To deal with our future, we absolutely must bring in new money by establishing new revenue streams with a keen eye to the core principles that make Minor League Baseball the unique entity it is today. On average, we fill 55% of our seats in a given year. We have room for new customers, new faces in the ballpark. If every club in Minor League Baseball does not have a ticket for $5 or less, they ought to put one in place immediately.

Albert Einstein once said, "We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."

It will be the merging of the John Walsh truism about ticket prices with recognizing Einstein's theory on alternative thinking that will push Minor League Baseball to new heights in the future.

With the 2010 season, Minor League Baseball will address three initiatives to help marry the concepts of community living, new thinking paradigms and outreach to new segments of our world. Each initiative is designed to create that favorable environment for our clubs to excel.

First, Minor League Baseball will continue the diversity initiative started last year. This five- pronged initiative is designed to diversify Minor League Baseball by addressing the race and gender diversity of ownership within our industry; executive level management within the sport; staff level employment with our clubs; diversifying our fan base; and developing business to business opportunities between Minor League Baseball and a diverse business network of diverse- based companies. Each prong relies on, and prospers from, the development of the other aspects of the plan.

As Einstein implied, we must never concede to our diversity shortcomings, continue a "business as usual" approach and expect to see any changes in our results. We must change the culture and attitude of how we deal with the diversity issue. If we are to change how our game looks, we must change how we look at our game. Our office will provide the guidance to our clubs through a voluntary, best practices program, designed to give you the tools to develop a diverse franchise internally and externally.

We will reach out and identify pools of Minor League Baseball club equity available to a qualified pool of diverse-based capital interested in an ownership stake in the game.

Through a series of relationships with prominent historically black colleges & universities, and their alumni, Minor League Baseball will attract a more diverse pool of entry level, middle management and executive level employee candidates. Baseball has deep roots and an incredible history within all races and both genders. Our approach will be homage to our past, but will also adopt new thinking to deal with our future.

Today, we have Miss Wendy Lewis in attendance with us. Wendy, please stand. Miss Lewis has developed an award winning, industry recognized, diversity program for Major League Baseball and will provide us with a solid blueprint, proven methods and access to the business network of proven diverse business suppliers. Wendy, thank you for your leadership to our industry and support for Minor League Baseball's initiative. As is the case on many fronts, from the rookie league through the major leagues, when we realize we are all part of the same industry, then we will find real solutions. On diversity in particular, Major League Baseball gets it and together we will combine to find real solutions and opportunities.

The second initiative Minor League Baseball will undertake in 2010 marries the loyalty of our fan base with the history of our great game. Minor League Baseball recently announced a season long effort to bring the Baseball Hall of Fame to our fans in an affordable and innovative way. Ken Meifert and Sean Gahagan of the Baseball Hall of Fame are here today as we roll out the 2010 membership opportunity for all Minor League Baseball employees and fans. Ken and Sean, please stand. Starting at the Baseball Trade Show, we will have the opportunity to interact with the Hall of Fame with memberships at a special rate, special offers to fill your 2010 promotional calendar back home and unique once-in-a-lifetime premium gift opportunities for you, your sponsors, season ticketholders and corporate partners. Ken and Sean, thank you for being here today and for your commitment to baseball, and specifically, Minor League Baseball.

Our final initiative for the coming season will be Minor League Baseball's commitment to baseball through the operation of Historic Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Florida. Through this historic complex, Minor League Baseball will recognize our past, embrace the present and secure our future by developing a series of turn key programs for our leagues and clubs use across the country. The Vero Beach opportunity represents our chance to develop programs that recognize athletic excellence, academic excellence and service to the underserved in our communities. Not only will Minor League Baseball develop concept for our youth, we will allow for gender, age and race diverse participation in a series of world-class events and programs. Along with our operation of Durham Athletic Park, Minor League Baseball is positioned to create meaningful programs for our clubs, create inventory for our clubs to sell and serve our fans and communities unlike ever before.

Within every problem lies an opportunity.

Or as Charles Kettering quipped, "There exist limitless opportunities in every industry. Where there is an open mind, there will always be a frontier."

Our future and our frontier have never been brighter given the strength of our organization, the creativity and energy within our ranks and our incredible drive to be successful shall prevail. There is nothing we cannot conquer as a group if we keep an open mind, and as Stan likes to say "We stick to our knitting."

I wish you a successful week this week. I wish you health, safety and happiness as we enter the holiday season. Thank you.