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Baseball Analysis  Mike McCann / Minor Leagues

October 2003


By Mike McCann

If you are an Edmonton Trappers fan, I'm sure that you heard the news.  The Edmonton franchise in the Pacific Coast League will be moving to Round Rock, TX for the 2005 season.  The current Round Rock Express team will be moving to Corpus Christi, TX to start play in the same season.  Corpus Christi will likely stay a Houston affiliate and the Astros will likely move their AAA affiliate from New Orleans to Round Rock.

The main reason that teams move is because of lack of attendance.  The bottom line is always how profitable the team is, and without people in the seats, the team won't be making that much money.  But Edmonton finished 10th out of 16 teams with an average of 5472 per game.  For a AAA team, it isn't great, but it certainly isn't bad either.  It's better than six other teams in the league.

It sounds like the big reason for the move is that the league was getting too spread out and travel out of the country was getting more difficult.  In recent years, there haven't been many moves due to non-financial reasons.  Edmonton had a nice facility which was also used by the Edmonton Eskimos who played in the Canadian Football League.  The team's main drawback was its location.

The owners of the team definitely did not have to sell the team, but they were feeling some pressure from the league and other teams to have the team moved somewhere in the United States.  With the move to Texas, this team is much closer to most teams.  That New Orleans to Edmonton trip couldn't have been very fun.

In 1998, the three AAA leagues merged into two with the American Association being the odd man out.  Previously, the International League served the East Coast, the American Association served the central portion of the country, and the Pacific Coast League served the West Coast.  Buffalo, Indianapolis and Louisville joined the International League and Iowa, Nashville, New Orleans, Oklahoma City and Omaha joined the Pacific Coast League.  Adding these five teams drastically changed the makeup of the PCL which in 1997 consisted of Calgary, Edmonton, Salt Lake City, Tacoma and Vancouver in the north and Albuquerque, Colorado Springs, Las Vegas, Phoenix and Tucson in the south.

What used to be a league of teams that travelled up and down the west coast now had to travel to Tennessee and Louisiana.  Travel costs were increasing rapidly.  The past few seasons saw the demise of the other two Canadian teams as Vancouver moved to Sacramento and Calgary moved to Albuquerque (the previous Albuquerque franchise moved to Portland).   So the closest team to Edmonton is now Tacoma, a mere 585 miles as the crow flies and not a very short drive.

Other Canadian teams are also having a difficult time competing in the American markets.  Looking at the minor league teams in the 1993 season, Canada had teams in Ottawa, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, London (Ontario), St. Catharines (Ontario), Niagara Falls (Ontario), Welland (Ontario), Medicine Hat (Alberta) and Lethbridge (Alberta).  Of those 10, only the first three also played in 2003 (although Vancouver dropped from AAA to a short season league).  Ottawa has been rumored to be moving for a while as well.

Some people may point out that Winnipeg is currently doing quite well in the independent Northern League, and the Northern League may want to expand into other Canadian markets like Edmonton and Calgary.  But in general, teams seem to think the grass is greener south of the border.

It should be interesting to see what happens over the next 10 years.  Are the remaining Canadian teams going to move?  What about Montreal and Toronto?  Or will their be a resurgence back to the great white north?  Should be fun to watch.

I am always looking for topics to write about, so please send me an email and let me know what would be interesting reading for you. Feel free to ask any questions or give an idea for a column.

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