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Batavia franchise may be nearing its end

It seems time to admit that the New York-Penn League’s Batavia Muckdogs aren’t going to draw enough fans to survive.

Deep in six-digit debt two years ago, local ownership brought in the successful management team from the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings in a noble attempt to breathe some life back into the founding member of the league back in 1939.

Last season, the parent St. Louis Cardinals more than did their part, providing the players and coaches that brought the town exciting, winning baseball, culminating in their first NY-Penn championship since 1963.

While the result of the field was good, the result on the books was just the opposite – a quarter of a million dollar loss was absorbed by the Red Wings for 2008 operations of the Muckdogs franchise.

Here in 2009, the situation seems to be deteriorating. The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle ran a somber news item on Tuesday, likely with information sourced from a member of the Rochester Community Baseball organization. The message is that RCB has not yet decided their future involvement with the money-losing Muckdogs following this season, at least publicly.

Though it was in the sports section, not with the obituaries, the end seems near.

Despite coming off their championship season, the Muckdogs are averaging only 988 fans over their first 29 home games here in 2009. That ranks them 13th in the 14-team NY-Penn League, a league in which the average attendance is three-and-a-half times higher, 3,616. That average rises to 3,818 if Batavia is excluded.

The 988 average attendance figure is down from 1,199 last year and 1,230 in 2007, reports the Democrat and Chronicle. In what seems more like gallows humor than anything, The Batavian labeled the Rochester report “idle speculation” and gamely observes that the 2009 figure is not apples and oranges since it reflects the actual attendance, not an inflated figure as in past years.

No matter how you cut it, the signals are bad.

What clinched the deal for me was a line in the Rochester news article that Rochester Community Baseball will receive 10 percent of the proceeds if the Muckdogs are sold. I had not seen that factoid before, but its inclusion brings the situation into focus.

Let’s do the simple math.

How many years of losing $250,000 per year can be covered by a 10 percent stake of a franchise likely worth in the range of $3 million to $5 million?

Two years times $250,000 equals a half-million dollars lost. Ten percent of $5 million is half-a-million dollars gain. Hmmm…

Rochester Community Baseball did not sign up to run the Batavia Muckdogs as a charity exercise. Assuming they can see no end to the continued flow of red ink, as intelligent businesspeople, what choice would they have other than to cut their losses?

If RCB cannot succeed running the team and the locals already failed in their attempts, who else would see any potential in coming in to make a third try in 2010 and beyond?

The logical and obvious conclusion, as painful as it is for the Batavia faithful, is the sale and relocation of the Muckdogs.

If that happens, the Cardinals affiliation would move with the team. St. Louis is contractually committed to the Muckdogs franchise via their Player Development Contract that runs through the 2010 season.

If Batavia fans want to ensure they catch their team in action, time is running out. The club has only nine home dates remaining in the 2009 season. Beyond that, we shall see.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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