Winter Meetings opening speeches

MiLB President Pat O'Conner, VP Stan Brand kick off session

By Minor League Baseball | December 5, 2011 8:30 AM ET

Minor League Baseball President Pat O'Conner's Opening Session Speech

DALLAS -- Good morning and welcome to Dallas for the 2011 Baseball Winter Meetings. We can all agree we are living in challenging times. Our last 12 months have been filled with devastating and record-setting weather events, continuing economic hardship in our communities, high unemployment, socio-economic issues with healthcare and government intervention, a jittery Wall Street and a gridlocked Washington. Despite these issues, our clubs continue the good work that is Minor League Baseball.

As David Weatherford said, "When faced with a challenge, look for a way, not a way out." In the midst of the recession, Minor League Baseball saw a 5 percent increase in gross revenues for the 2010 season, the latest season we have tabulated. We provided our product, in difficult economic times, and recognized real economic gains. This illustrates the effectiveness of our business model, the soundness of our business practices, the quality of our product and our place in this new American economy.

Based on the early 2011 reports, we expect the positive trend to continue in our next reporting cycle. Our attendance in 2011 exceeded 41-million fans for the seventh year in a row and was the fifth largest total in our 110-year history. Our final total was down by less than one-half of one percent, but this was based on 140 fewer total openings. The more important indicator of average attendance per opening was actually up nearly one percent in 2011 over the 2010 season.

In addition to the attendance and economic news of the past 12 months, Minor League Baseball made other important news this past season. As reported to you at this session a year ago, Minor League Baseball was near an agreement with Major League Baseball on a Professional Baseball Agreement extension. That agreement was, in fact, signed this past spring. The extension provides PBA certainty through the 2020 season. I would like to thank our membership and our partners at Major League Baseball for seeing the value of relationship certainty. With the PBA solidly in place, the stage is set for other positives in the Major League- Minor League relationship.

Minor League Baseball's national marketing program saw record sales in 2011 which gives indications of corporate America's economic recovery and enthusiastic return to participation with Minor League Baseball teams.

2011 saw the development an organization-wide medical insurance program for our team employees. National healthcare issues and rising insurance premiums exist everywhere. This new program will provide quality healthcare at affordable rates with a two-year rate guarantee. As many as 20 clubs and league offices opted in during the initial registration period representing nearly 350 individual employees. I congratulate those clubs and leagues involved for your vision and feel confident more leagues and clubs will see the value of an industry-wide program and join the program in the months ahead. I would like to thank John Scotti and Team Scotti for their work on our behalf and Major League Baseball for allowing us, in this instance, to coat tail their very successful medical insurance program.

There is even more good news is in the pipeline. Last month, we announced a partnership with the Vero Beach Sports Village operation that will stabilize the operation and allow us to complete the vision and mission established in 2009. The new Verotown partnership with the O'Malley and Seidler families, Chan Ho Park and Hideo Nomo will supplement the solid foundation in place and provide stability for Minor League Baseball programming and usage.

Minor League Baseball has been certified by the state of Florida to operate "The Umpire School." This cutting edge program, to be held in Vero Beach next January, will supplement PBUC's commitment to providing quality umpiring in all Minor League Baseball leagues and enable us to better prepare Major League Baseball's umpires of the future.

In July, the inaugural "Minor League Baseball Youth Leadership Academy" was held at the Vero Beach Sports Village. I would like to thank the Albuquerque Isotopes, Iowa Cubs, New Orleans Zephyrs, Omaha Storm Chasers, New Britain Rock Cats, Lexington Legends, Brooklyn Cyclones and Tri-City ValleyCats for their trust and participation in this groundbreaking program.

On the diversity front, Minor League Baseball made significant gains with programs forming around the country in an effort to attract, integrate and include a more diverse group of owners, executives, employees, fans and business partners to Minor League Baseball. Achieving diversity, as a business strategy, will be one of the most important factors in Minor League Baseball's ability to successfully operate in the future. It is critically important that we understand, analyze and act on the demographic and business changes awaiting us around the next corner.

I am also pleased to announce that within the past few days, Minor League Baseball reached agreement with the Association of Minor League Umpires on a new five-year Collective Bargaining Agreement. This agreement will provide labor peace with our umpires through the 2016 season. I wish to thank the AMLU for its work on this agreement and the professional approach they brought to the negotiations.

If we make intelligent decisions, intelligent decisions will form our future. From Gary Blair's book on goals I offer you this thought: Indecision is the big eraser of opportunity and potential. Risks and costs accompany every decision; however, the price of decision is far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction. When it comes to decisiveness, squatters have no rights.

As we look back on the past few seasons we can look back on remarkable progress as an organization. Now is not the time to rest on these accomplishments but use them as the springboard to bigger and better things as a group. Your successes of the past are a result of hard work, fairness and believing in the "power of one." Together we have accomplished much. Together we will accomplish much more.

As we leave here and conduct our business, let us go with an attitude of improving our product. Let us appreciate the success we have experienced and commit ourselves to working together even more in the coming year. Let us cooperate with all of our partners to address our differences in a fair and equitable way. Do not lose sight of the greater good, that "power of one" when evaluating your options this week.

In closing this morning, I am extremely pleased with the contract extension talks currently underway between Major League Baseball Advanced Media and Minor League Baseball's Baseball Internet Rights Company. In the last 20 years, nothing has been more exciting or promising for Minor League Baseball than our venture into the internet and the development of our BIRCO property. To speak of this relationship and the future of the baseball's place in the internet, it is my pleasure to introduce the President & CEO Of Major League Baseball Advanced Media, Mr. Bob Bowman.

Minor League Baseball Vice President Stan Brand's Opening Session Speech

DALLAS -- Usually in my remarks to you at the Winter Meetings I report on legislation or activities emanating from Washington that threaten our economic stability or challenge baseball's structural viability. In this regard, I have reported to you on our efforts in the 1990s to preserve baseball's historic antitrust exemption or congressional scrutiny of baseball's policy on performance enhancing substances. For now, happily, those challenges appear to be behind us and I do not anticipate that we will be facing anything like them in the immediate future.

Today I want to alert you to a threat that is just as potent but does not come from Congress or the bureaucracy but from the commercial sector. That is: foreign based and foreign operated websites that pirate our copyrighted works and intellectual property, in effect stealing our products and the revenue they generate and diminishing our brands. As fast as law enforcement can shut these sites down they reemerge on another site, sometimes within minutes. We are privileged to have here today to address the Opening Session for the first time Bob Bowman, the CEO of MLB Advanced Media and I know the subject of website piracy is of mutual concern for us and our Major League partners.

While current law provides some relief to copyright owners whose works are infringed under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, this law has proven insufficient to stem the tide of rogue websites.

There are two brief thoughts I want to leave you with today. First, for us in baseball this is a problem that has grown geometrically with the proliferation of these sites. It could easily reach a magnitude of hundreds of millions of dollars if not addressed through remedial legislation. It is not a problem of pure technology but of criminal law enforcement.

Because the Department of Justice lacks the ability to seek felony penalties for violations of copyright law there are insufficient deterrents to law breakers. The "Stop Online Piracy Act," recently introduced on a bipartisan basis by Congressman Lamar Smith, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Ranking Member John Conyers, and others, would remedy that gap in current law. There has already been a hearing on this legislation last month and action is anticipated in the Senate next session.

This legislation represents an important tool in the fight against pirated copyrighted works and one that we, and MLB Advanced Media, believe is essential to protect our investment in our intellectual property. As this legislation moves through the Congress we will be asking you to contact your Representatives and Senators to support the "Stop Online Piracy Act.". We may also ask you to assist in reaching out to our other partners and vendors in getting these protections enacted into law.

Finally, this is my 20th Winter Meetings and I wanted to try to provide some perspective about the state of our game. I came into Minor League Baseball on the heels of a PBA negotiation in 1990 that was consummated only after our century old relationship with the Major Leagues looked like it might not survive, and with it came new rigorous stadium standards, a ticket tax and other adjustments that challenged us to find new ways to expand our business, which we did. Ironically, the 1991 PBA heralded a new era of increased attendance, merchandising and stadium construction that propelled the Minors to new heights. We survived a concerted attack on the antitrust exemption in Congress, a season ending strike in 1994, a searing examination of our policy on performance enhancing substances and the financial meltdown of 2008.

Despite these challenges, Major League Baseball just reached a historic third CBA renewal without a work stoppage or even a cross word in public. We extended the PBA for 10 years and have also just concluded a successful negotiation of our CBA with Minor League umpires. This is not to say we can rest on our laurels; only that some strong foundations are in place for continued success, despite a struggling economy.

The hockey great Wayne Gretzky said he wasn't interested in where the puck has been but only where it's going. We have our hurdles ahead but we should enter the fray with some degree of confidence that if we stick to the lessons learned over the last two decades, the best is ahead for us.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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