Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon

O'Conner opens 2014 Winter Meetings

MiLB president touts growth, strong attendance in annual speech
December 9, 2014

SAN DIEGO -- Good morning and welcome to the 2014 Baseball Winter Meetings and Trade Show. I trust your travels to San Diego were uneventful. I also hope you are able to enjoy this beautiful city and have a productive stay here in Southern California.
2014 proved to be one tremendous season for Minor League Baseball. This past year was filled with fantastic story lines, great baseball and fabulous attendance.

From the ashes of a Jan. 3 stadium fire, the Whitecaps story which you just heard, is one awesome story. Once again, to Lew, Denny, Scott, Jim and the Whitecaps staff I congratulate you on your commitment to Grand Rapids, the Whitecaps, the Midwest League and Minor League Baseball.

We all were caught up in the "Ice Bucket Challenge" and such a great showing of support for our friends at ALS. In practically every league there was a gripping story of local, regional or national significance.

Once again, the players within Minor League Baseball thrilled and entertained our fans. Close races, come-from-behind pennant chases and outstanding individual and team effort dotted the Minor League Baseball landscape. Players moved from Minor League Baseball into the Major Leagues to star, not just participate, on the big stage.

After miserable weather in April and first half of May, our fans responded to an all-time third-best total in season attendance. Third only to the 2008 and the 2007 totals, the 2014 total attendance of 42.4 million fans show the resiliency of Minor League Baseball. We have battled back from The Great Recession which began in 2009 and continue to show measured growth, stability and that in-touch attitude with our fans and communities.

In addition to the growth, we also saw serious traction of many of our recent initiatives. Playing off the "Power of One," we have demonstrated our ability to pool resources, bundle assets and capitalize of the collective power of the organization. On many fronts, Minor League Baseball is in its infancy with regard to asset appreciation and revenue generation as we improve our product for the fans and fine-tune our business operations.

As Michael Hand just outlined, Minor League Baseball-Enterprises has positioned our brand in an ideal place as we expand our reach to major marketers in major markets throughout the country. As Enterprises continues to get traction, Minor League Baseball should recognize more and more exposure and produce more revenue from new and exciting sources. The pipeline of clients and potential partners is flush with opportunities that should come to fruition in the next few years. continues to grow in technology and prestige. Please remember, when we bundled Minor League Baseball internet rights to form BIRCO in 2008, we did so with practically no initial investment. Through the auspices of our great partners at Major League Baseball Advanced Media and our ability to come together as a group, we went from a meager startup concept to a multi-million dollar asset that operates with a virtually debt-free balance sheet and a seven-figure revenue stream back to the teams. We should take great pride in the development of this asset and respect the strong relationship we have forged with our partners at MLB and MLB Advanced Media. I would like to again thank Art Matin for his tireless work on this project over the years. While Art will be difficult to replace, I am confident Ken Babby is the right man to lead BIRCO to the next level.

Not only is BIRCO a strong business entity, it is also a user-friendly driver of fan loyalty and e-commerce. Currently, 135 of the 160 domestic teams participate in the MiLB e-commerce platform.'s traffic continues to impress with solid annual growth by virtually every metric used to measure internet efficiency and popularity. The 2014 sales total of nearly $4 million in e-commerce is a 20 percent increase year-to-year with no signs of weakening in the near future. Additionally, BIRCO's streaming of 4,800 games per year is the most among professional sports leagues and is only going to grow in the coming years.

For any business to succeed in this day and age, it takes considerable effort. We have given that effort and realized the fruits of that labor. For a business to excel, it must also have vision. Moving forward, Minor League Baseball must never forget its roots and core business concepts, but embrace new ideas, new thinking and innovation if we expect to grow the business and maintain our place of prominence in the American marketplace.

Vision and innovation require investment. We must invest in brain power, technology, facilities and people if we want to make material gains in the future. Among those investments in brain power is the ability to accept the Power of One concept and work with your peers to better the whole. The old adage that "all ships rise with the high tide" has never been truer than when applied to Minor League Baseball.

To collectively grow, we need every team to participate and invest. We should strive to stream every game above Short Season A inside of three years and have all 160 affiliated teams streaming inside of five. If it takes a technological investment, so be it. If it takes a facility upgrade, so be it. The ability to market the entire package of Minor League games is exponentially greater than any sum, or multiple, of 160 teams. And we should be pushing the Inside the Park and First Pitch apps to our fans as if our lives depended on it. These are great apps with a tremendous upside for our fans, teams and the bottom line. The technology is already available. These apps provide a creative connection to the fans at no cost to the clubs.

Much the same should be said for our audio broadcasting. Teams should accommodate the TuneIn platform in any way possible as we attempt to bundle all our audio feeds. If an exclusive with TuneIn is not possible, then carve out the ability to participate in TuneIn with the overwhelming majority of your peers. Again, there is exponential gain by combining our resources. The individual team cost, in those isolated cases of not participating, is far outweighed by the gain to the organization by leveraging 100 percent of our product in the marketplace.

We have demonstrated beyond any doubt our ability to make or save money when we act in concert. Look at the record. Licensing, BIRCO, Umpires Workers Comp and Employee Health Insurance programs are all proven examples of what we are capable of when we capitalize on the Power of One. We have improved our product. We have improved our economics. We have done right by our fans and employees. It IS possible to save money and do the right thing. And I should add here, MiLB-Enterprises is on the same path as a startup operation.

In closing, let me reiterate one of the greatest issues we will face in the next 5-10-15 years. You have heard me say many times that the demographics of America are changing unlike any period in our nation's history. Future generations of fans will look different. Future generations of owners and executives will face issues that look little like those we face today. Diversifying Minor League Baseball should be on everyone's radar and gain importance in the coming year. After the first of the year, I will announce a new position to the staff in St. Petersburg. This new hire will be dedicated to developing programs for Minor League Baseball to diversify its ownership, management, staffing, fan base and business-to-business makeup all across this country. If we want to remain relevant and socially responsible, we must invest in people and programs that will allow us to proportionately reflect the demographic of the community we call home. I urge you; make diversity an issue for your team.

Go from here invigorated. You had a good year in 2014 and that is cause to celebrate. It is also cause to work hard in the future to ensure even greater success in the year to come. Be well, be safe and God bless.