The 2009 VBL Schedule : How important is it ? - The future just might depend on it...Final Thoughts from ATV-60 on the VBL

Note - For the 1ST time I wrote too many words for my spell check to kick-in. Sorry in advance for goofs... My years of management left me preaching one thing to the Managers I trained- Don't bring me a problem if you don't have a suggestion on how to fix it...

LURAY - The level of competition is changing all around our country in refrence to our Valley Baseball League. There are up and coming Summer Leagues that are wasting little time in getting their business plan in place. One of those leauges that you can use for example is the Sierra Baseball League (Where Today's talent becomes Tomorrow's Legends). Check out this up and coming league by clicking over to http://sierrabaseball.com/ . Somethings you will notice are that the league itself has an owner that acts in the best interest of the 14 teams in the league and despite the fact they have only been around for a few seasons they have both TV & Radio coverage tied to there All-Star Game.

Hey, there all the way out on the West Coast so there is no real concern, right? Then take a look at a few leagues closer to our home. The Northwoods League (Get Ready for the Show) has 14 teams and a deal in place with ESPN-U to broadcast their All-Star Game. One of their teams is located North of the Border so their players get an opportunity to play some games in Canada as well. The league started in 1994 and you can trace the entire history of the league on their league website.

We don't even have to talk about the Cape Cod League and all that goes with being the premeir league in the country. Peter Gammons and the gang at ESPN plus Jessica Beal making a movie a few years back about life in the Summer with the Cape made the "Cape" a Coke Brand name.

The next league that appears on the list would be the Great Lakes League. http://www.greatlakes.org/ is the site that will tell you about the 11 team league based in Ohio and Indiana. We could go on and on but I think the first four examples make the point. There are teams in these leagues that spend more money on their Team Website than the VBL spends on their entire league in a season. There are now over 200 teams competing with the VBL for the top players from around the country. Cal Ripken Sr, Alaska, Texas, New England Collegiate, Clark Griffith and Coastal Plain to name a few of the other leagues competing for our boys of Summer.

A college baseball player looking to impress the scouts or just improve his game has over 20 choices. The other leagues have more bells and whistles than the VBL so what does that mean for our league?

Let's start out by using the Luray Wranglers for an example. Bill Turner and Company work in a town with a population of roughly 5,000 and with a minimal amount of sponsorship opportunites. I feel comfortable in saying this because like Bill, I do business in this town and know first hand what the current economy is doing to our little town. The team is operated by about one dozen volunteers and GM Diane Buckley with Bill trying to get the most out of every penny the town folks can come up with.

The team uses the ball park that Luray High School plays their games at during the school year. The biggest drawback to the park is the lack of restroom facilities but Page County offers little in the way of choices.

With that said, now let us take a look at what the town of Luray and the Luray Wranglers brought to the table in the Summer of 2008.

First: One of their fans/residents went all over the State of Virginia to try and raise all the attention for the VBL that was possible. The jury is still out on this guy and his families sanity but what can I say.

Second: When the Cincinatti Reds drafted former Wrangler and Miami product Yonder Alonso with the number 7 pick of the first round, he became the highest VBL draft choice in the history of the league.

Third: While Vienna was ranked number 1 in the country in the PG Crosschecker Poll, Luray was able to get the Senators to travel down to Luray for a day/night twin bill. The Sens played Waynesboro in the afternoon (Generals won 1-0) and then played the Wranglers in the evening (Luray 12-4). The day went a long, long way toward giving the VBL street cred around the US if you will.

Fourth : Luray captured 7 straight playoff games after losing their opener to Harrisonburg and captured their 2ND VBL Crown in a 3-year span. The VBL title coupled with the Vienna double header allowed Luray to reach #3 in the Country and they ended the Summer ranked #4 out of 200 or so teams.

I said right after it took place that the VBL should shout the News from the Mountain Tops about Luray and the VBL as a whole but very little of this was done. While I don't think the VBL owed Luray a ticker tape parade, I do think there was a reason for a certain amount of graditude to the Wranglers organization.

What happened next was simply a crime commited against the Wranglers. The VBL now has 12 teams after welcoming the Lexington-based Rockbridge Rapids into the fold for the 2009 season. We now have an even number of teams and it is time to build on the momentum of the 2008 season so the VBL doesn't continue to lose ground to rest of the country. The one thing we have in our wonderful Valley is special folks and special towns. Our biggest concern for 2009 should be-scratch that- has to be to put our Fans in the seats at the parks.

I run a business that is directly tied to the cost of transportation (Delivery Service) and have felt first hand the effect of the cost of gas almost doubling. I answered many a question last year about how practical it was to try and run a promotion that encouraged folks to try and criss-cross the state with gas being $4.00 a gallon. My answer was that gas was roughly $2.00 a gallon when the idea started. This is a serious time for serious decesions to be made both for the Country and for the VBL.

The campaign for 2009 is "FANS IN THE STANDS" and the easiest way to do this would be to regionalize as many games as possible. For example, both Haymarket and Fauquier are trying to make strides in getting fans to attend their games and that should be the focus for both of those franchises. The amount of money one of their fans might spend to take in say four road games would allow that same fan to possibly buy a Senators season ticket.

The 2009 Schedule about to be put in to play has the VBL drawn in to a Northern and Southern Division with the North consisting of Winchester, Haymarket, Fauquier, Woodstock, Front Royal and Luray.

The South would consist of Harrisonburg, New Market, Staunton, Waynesboro. Rockbridge and Covington.

The teams would play 6 games against each of their division rivals and then a 2 game set against the other division. The idea would appear logical but it is not and I will now list the reasons why.

The format above almost guarentees that the Luray Wranglers would lose money for a second season in a row. The two teams that load up the cars and bring folks over to Bulldog Field are the New Market Rebels and the Harrisonburg Turks. The out-of-town kitty will now be reduced to just 2 viable road crowds for the Wranglers. Waynesboro will bring a few folks up for the game but no other team will approach double figures on most nights.

Luray is not the only team that will lose out, just the team that loses the greatest amount. Both of the trophy series held by New Market are greatly reduced. The Rebels have great battles with both the Woodstock River Bandits and the Luray Wranglers with trophys at stake but with the Rebels to the South and the other two to the North...

MLB has spent many a meeting trying to protect the Kansas City Royals/ Tampa Bay Rays and other small market teams by having profit sharing, much to the dismay of George Steinbrenner and his Yankees. His famous comeback being I didn't buy the Tampa Bay team, I bought the NY Yankees. But even George knows that NY can't play the BoSox 162 times. The can play 18 times and the Baltimore Orioles thank God everyday that they get 9 home games with Boston and New York to bolster their home gate.

Let us take a look at the current American League format and see what we can learn from it:

AL East:
Boston Red Sox
NY Yankees
Baltimore O's
Toronto Blue Jays
Tampa Bay Rays
___________________________________________
AL Central:
Milwaukee Brewers
Detroit Tigers
Clevland Indians
Kansas City Royals
Chicago White Sox
__________________________________________
AL West:
Oakland A's
LA Angles
Seattle Mariners
Texas Rangers
__________________________________________

Let's take a look at the crazy idea that nobody even wants to take a look at or listen to before
moving forward with a decesion that could eventually cost my town our team.

Division #1 - The Northern Virginia Daily Division
1. Winchester Royals
2. Front Royal Cards
3. Haymarket Senators
4. Fauquier Gators

Division #2 - The Daily News Record Division
1. Woodstock River Bandits
2.New Market Rebels
3.Luray Wranglers
4. Harrisonburg Turks

Division #3 - The Staunton News- Leader Division
1. Waynesboro Generals
2. Staunton Braves
3.Rockbridge Rapids
4.Covington Lumberjacks

Playoff format - Top two teams from each division and then the two remaining teams of the six with the best record regardless of division.

Sponsorships of the 3 Divisions : Yes, with VBL responsibilites coming with the title such as guarentees about All-Star Coverage and Finals games depending on ther Home Park. Get Chuck McGill, Hubert Grimm and the DNR in the room and have a serious meeting. We can't talk about wanting Love from ESPN until we can get it from our own media. Continue to find ways to make the VBL morer fan friendly and try tapping into the incredible hard-core fan base the VBL has on different ideas to make it better.

Schedule goes as follows - Play your 3 division rivals 9 times each (5/4) for a total of 27 games. Play the other games as follows - one home and one away with each of the other teams with the total now reaching 43 games and then let the 44TH game be the teams Natural rival (FR-WIN, HAY-FAU, Rock-Cov, Stau-Waynesboro, NM-Woodstock, Luray-H'Burg). You would have to flip flop the 5/4 between the two teams each year- Example- Luray 5 home, New Market 4 home year 1 and then flip them for year two. I know some computer people that would spit it out for the sake of doing it if it is too confusing.

What does this give you? Each teams fans will still have at least one chance to see every team in the VBL come to their town and it gives a Major Boost to increasing the Rivaleries that make the VBL so special. You want to get people to the Bing- let Winchester come to town 5 times and now Luray gets 9 games with New Market & Harrisonburg and the games with Woodstock become more meaningful. Woodtsock gets their 22 home games but now 4 or 5 of them are against New Market (19 miles & County rival).

Let's take a look at one team for example:

Luray @ Home:
Current schedule-

3 games vs. Fauquier
3 games vs. Haymarket
3 games vs. Front Royal
3 games vs. Woodstock
3 games vs. Winchester
1 wild card game
1 game vs. 6 teams from the South

New Format:
5 games vs. New Market
5 games vs. H-Burg
4 games vs. Woodstock
1 game vs. each of the other 8 teams
___________________________________________________
This allows Luray to trade 6 home dates with Winchester, Haymarket and Fauquier for six more home gates with the Turks and the Rebels. It gives Bruce Alger and his fans back both of his trophy series and then some. Stu (Woodstock) now gets more of a chance to draw visitors as even Harrisonburg is just 36 miles of All-I-81 up to his park.
__________________________________________________
Luray and Haymarket aren't just 65 miles apart, the 65 miles in not user friendly. 20+ miles of two lane road followed by 5 or 6 miles through town (Front Royal) before you reach the highway (I-66).
__________________________________________________
The planned format criples Luray but it is moving forward because most everyone else is getting what they want. What would be the response from Waynesboro or Staunton if a plan was put into place that elimanated their match-ups?
__________________________________________________
Now let us take a look at the "Fans in the Stands" angle of this plan. Keep in mind that the same numbers I am going to throw out here for the fans is the exact same number for ther teams and each team will tell you that travel was / is their greatest expense. You have already seen how the plan puts more visitors in the stands, now let's take a look at it in reverse.
____________________________________________________
Let's say that I am a Luray Wrangler season ticket holder and I want to take short trips to see my team play. Now I have either 4 or 5 games at New Market (14 Miles), 4 or 5 games at Woodstock (34 Miles) and 4 or 5 games at Harrisonburg (34 miles) plus one at Front Royal (25 miles). I can now go to 15 of my 22 road games for a little more than 1 gallon of gas each way versus:
_____________________________________________________
(X3 to each park)
Fauquier- 44 miles but 1 hour due to mountain crossing on US-211 East
Haymarket- 65 miles on I-66 or 55 miles (1.19 hours) if you use the same crossing
Winchester - 44 miles (non-interstate or 50 miles with I-66/I-81)
Front Royal - same 25 miles of US-340
Woodstock - 34 miles

15 Road Games with current format - team travels 1,272 miles + 1 game at NM(28 loop), 1 @ HBurg(68 Loop) and 1 wild card game say at H-Burg (68 Loop)

The games to Covington, Waynesboro, Staunton and Rockbridge are a wash because the team takes one trip there both ways. Old format in place has the Wranglers driving 1,450 miles plus the four games in the deep South (626 under each plan) versus 732 miles...

Factor in the cost of traveling 2,076 estimated miles versus 1,358 miles is a 35% reduction in travel expenses ALONE !

Recap : The move brings more games to the fans, strengthens rivalries and reduces travel cost by 35% and just might give the VBL the boost it needs to compete with bigger cities that offer more bells and whistles.

Now for my closing thoughts on the matter- as the Song says, "You have to stand for something or you will fall for anything".

My love for my little town got me started on this exercise that became the VBL/Around The Valley in 60 Days. When the day is over and all is said and done - I live in Luray, run by business in Luray and support Mr. Bill Turner and his efforts to have a VBL team in Luray. I did my best to bring as much attention as possible to the VBL and then did my best to make each and every fan that came down to our little humble ball park feel like they mattered to the guy working the PA system.

I don't have an answer for the upcoming election, the price of gasoline or the real estate market but I did spend a night in a VBL ballpark everynight for over 60 days last summer. This allowed me to meet a great deal of people and listen to both their stories and their concerns about the VBL. It is game time folks - we have to get serious about protecting what is ours and for the second time in two years I have laid something out that costs the VBL nothing more than the time to look at the info.

The main difference this time around is that, like the Wranglers, I am fighting to keep my business afloat through the economic changes that are taking place. Take a look at the notes before it is too late, at least for this VBL fan. There are so many times that there is no answer for our troubles but I really don't think that is the case this time...

While I don't speak for Bill Turner or the Wrangler organization, I can honestly say that if the VBL moves forward with a plan destined to hurt the future of our town it wouldn't make sense for me to continue trying to support it...

Comments

Anonymous said…
You have obviously put a tremendous about of thought and time into this situation and potential resolution. Thank you for caring enough about your hometown team, the Luray Wranglers, and the future of the VBL that you would give us a pair of "FRESH EYES" to look at this situation.
GO VALLEY BASEBALL LEAGUE!!!!
Thanks for taking the time to read all the way through it. Don't know if it will help anybody out but it helped me to say it...
Anonymous said…
Brillant idea Jerry just about what I have been thinking, I will be sending you my story and also John too right after the World Series.

I would love for the VBL to get a TV contract atleast with MyValleyTV or atleast a public access channel. More about that in the future story.

GeneralsSignGuyMike
Anonymous said…
Your 3 division solution is exactly what we have been saying all along! The current economic trends and the competitive market for top notch players bears your theory out.
Now, what to do about it?
Would numerous letters from fans, host parents, and other stake-holders sent to the VBL Chairman and board get the wheels of change moving? I can't say, but I certainly think it is worth a try. WE are the VBL and if we don't try something like this to save and make the teams money then we may be one of those leagues to fall by the wayside and what an incredible waste that will be! So, If you are reading this and agree with Jerry's plan then gather all of your VBL friends and start writing!
VBL leadership contact information can be found on this webpage:
http://www.valleyleaguebaseball.com/Directory.asp
Thank you to both Mike and Melissa for chiming in. They are both great examples of the highly educated die-hard VBL fans I was making refrence to. The D-III ODAC conference is doing a free of charge Pod-cast of the Bridgewater vs. Hampden-Sydney game this week-end. Can someone ask them how they are doing this so we can see what we can afford to try and do?
Our answer is not to wait around and hope a BIG TIME Corporate Sponsor just drops a BIG BAG of Money and a TV Contract on us. We can make a difference, can't we?
Anonymous said…
Jerry, et al:

I agree fully with this concept. It would save the teams money in travel expenses, hopefully build more interest in fans going to more away games and generally improve the competition and natural rivalries within the league.

Would things change if more club's joined? Yes, but for now, with 12 teams, this is an excellent concept.

Haymarket Joe
Anonymous said…
Jerry you are right on with this plan! I love it! If the VBL doesn't start thinking outside the box we will fall further and further down the proverbial totum pole. We "loyal" fans will always be in the stands but we need to pump up the life blood at all the parks and get people/families excited about baseball again! It's America's game afterall! There's nothing better than the smell of hot dogs, the sound of bats cracking a ball, the static-y music blarring from the speakers and children running around with their gloves and a Sharpie hoping to get a signature on something! God bless you AGAIN and LET'S GO VBL!
Ran into Mr. Gene Davis down at the R.E Lee - Waynesboro game last night. Gene is a long time VBL fan and helps Kay & Boyd out with the P.A down at the Braves games in Staunton. He offered one extra twist to the idea - 10 games vs. the division and home & away vs. the rest for a 46 game schedule. I asked him to elaborate a bit and he said he might could do that once he returns from his vacation.
Jerry
Articulate and sensible. Couldn't agree more. Hope it happens or is at least considered.
Regards
Tony Mowatt
I wanted to take the time to Thank each and everyone of you that took the time to Post a response to the Story. It is a story that I am very passionate about and I say thanks for your time!

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