Barring a significant change in the player development agreement or an unexpected sale of the team, there will be professional baseball in Beloit until at least 2020.
A significant question remains as to which Major League organization will supply the Snappers with players.
The player development agreement that is in place with current affiliated teams and Minor League Baseball runs through 2020, meaning that as long as the clubs are able to keep up with the current standards set forth by the agreement, they are guaranteed to have a franchise.
The Snappers and the Minnesota Twins player development contract expired at the end of the 2012 season. The Twins have re-upped with at least two other affiliates in their organization, but they have not notified the Snappers of their intentions for next season.
The Twins had until Tuesday to notify Minor League Baseball as to whether they would like to open their options to other teams. According to Snappers Chairman of the Board Dennis Conerton, there will be no shortage of options for the Twins.
“It’s really a unique time right now,” Conerton said. “I believe that 12 of the 16 teams in the Midwest League have their contracts expiring, and the other single A league, the South Atlantic League, has eight of their 12 teams up as well. What that has created is a lot of teams wanting to step back and review their options. There are just an inordinate amount of agreements that have come up for renewal, and it’s taking longer for everyone to sort through everything.”
In the 30-year history of Beloit’s professional baseball association, the franchise has had just two major league affiliates. The Brewers ended their 22-year run in 2004, while the Twins have spent the past eight seasons in Beloit.
Attendance has dropped slightly for three consecutive seasons. In 2010, the Snappers averaged 1,096 fans. 2011 brought in 1,030 fans per game while 2012 averaged 1,013.
That represented the second-lowest total in the 16-team Midwest League, ahead of only Burlington’s average of 856.
Despite that, Snappers officials were encouraged about the season.
“I’m pleased with the attendance,” Snappers General Manager Matt Bosen. “I think that we would have done even better, but we had such a hot July that it was really tough out here. Besides that one month, we had a really good year.”
Conerton was encouraged by several things in 2012.
“From the early indications on the surveys that we took, we’ve reached some new zip codes in the area, which is a big plus,” Conerton said. “We are confident at this point that we’ll have had a profitable season. And we’ve seen some positive signs that maybe the economy is having some slight improvements. I’m very pleased with the season as a whole.”
Although there is no breaking news on a new ballpark that has been talked about for nearly a decade, Conerton remains positive the park will be built.
“We continually revisit that,” Conerton said. “We do have the land that was offered to us by the city of Beloit that is continually being held. We continue to talk with potential parties interested in participating in the building of the stadium. It’s no secret that the economy hasn’t helped that part of it. But we are confident that it’s going to improve. We have a few bricks going up on the wall, but we need a few more bricks to complete it. We are completely optimistic that we are going to get this thing done.”
Conerton believes the ballpark would be beneficial for many reasons.
“All of the studies that we’ve ever done surrounding the ballpark have shown that people value the Snappers organization and value having professional baseball in Beloit,” Conerton said. “Not only is it critical to our being able to stay in town, but also to the viability of the organization. It would make our business significantly stronger here.”
Although the agreement in place assures their place in town, Conerton still feels a sense of urgency to get the funding in place.
“We certainly aren’t sitting on our haunches because of the agreement,” Conerton said. “We don’t want to come to the end of this thing and not have everything completed. Time is of the essence.”
When the Brewers left town for far-flung Charleston, W.V., of the South Atlantic League, the move caught many off guard. The Beloit brass was concerned about the attendance dropping significantly without the presence of future Brewers on the field.
That, however, never happened. Largely because of that Conerton feels the organization will be successful regardless of the major league team they are affiliated with.
“I think your affiliate is important from an operational standpoint,” he said. “It certainly doesn’t hurt if you are able to promote the specific players to your market. But we’ve seen teams that have successfully appealed to fan bases that are interested in the opponent. I don’t want to diminish the relationship with the affiliate, but there are other ways to market and draw fans.”
Since players are continually promoted up the ladder and the face of the on-field product typically changes dramatically throughout the season, Conerton says it’s the Snappers’ job to sell the experience.
“In minor league baseball, the experience to the fan isn’t solely limited to the players on the field,” he said. “There are certain fan amenities and entertainment throughout the game that complements the product on the field. It’s the total entertainment package that people are going to base their decision on whether or not to come out to the ballpark.”
Twins Minor League Senior Director Jim Rantz said the Twins have enjoyed their association with Beloit, but would make no assurances as to the future of that relationship.
“The association and relationship with the people in Beloit has been nothing but outstanding,” Rantz said. “They do the best they can with the facilities they have available. I know they’ve been fighting for a new ballpark for the last 8 or 10 years. If we are a club that is out there looking around, we would have no qualms about coming back to Beloit.”
Rantz made it clear what he is looking for in a minor league affiliate.
“For us, the number one priority is always going to be the facility,” Rantz said. “We would like to have a real nice place to bring our players in. The second thing is that geographically it would be nice for it to fit in with us and with the rest of your affiliates. And then down the list a little is the people in the front office. But we feel like we can work with anyone, just like I’m sure the Beloit group feels like they can work with any big league club.”
The Snappers front office will be undergoing some changes as well. Director of Corporate Sales and Promotions Matt Glocke and Head Groundskeeper Kevin Dvorak will depart for other opportunities.
Bosen said there is a chance the park could undergo some changes in the off-season.
“There are some talks about things happening, but it’s a little early to talk about that,” Bosen said. “There is a chance to have some improvements, but I don’t want to get too much into it.”