IBL Expansion: What happens next?

Welland Stadium – One of the more spectacular unused ballparks in North America (Photo courtesy Charlie O’Reilly)

The expansion of the Intercounty League is a touchy subject. Very touchy in fact, because there’s so many issues surrounding a new team entering the league.

There are many cities in Ontario that would be able to host the IBL based solely on population – Kingston, Peterborough, Windsor, Cornwall – all suitable for IBL baseball.

However, as I said, this is solely based on population. Many other factors play in to the placement of an IBL team and unless some changes are made, the majority of those factors take the majority of the cities that I just listed out of the equation for the IBL.

Travel is obviously going to be an issue. We have to keep in mind that this is a semi-pro baseball league, so teams don’t have the budget of a pro team. Things have to be kept realistic and travelling to Sudbury or North Bay for a game is not, so you can rule them completely out of the equation.

It starts to get tough when you get into the topic of ballparks. Especially since most of the IBL feasible parks are already in use by the league, aside from a couple.

However, while it does take places like Peterborough out of the equation, it brings other, smaller towns that house larger parks into the equation.

St Catharines is a good example. Community Park, with a capacity of 2,500, had hosted the Blue Jays’ single A affiliate for a total of 14 seasons. Take a gander at these attendance numbers from the St Catharines affiliated baseball franchise.

Year

Team

Attendance Avg

1986

St Catharines Blue Jays

554

1987

St Catharines Blue Jays

624

1988

St Catharines Blue Jays

477

1989

St Catharines Blue Jays

416

1990

St Catharines Blue Jays

391

1991

St Catharines Blue Jays

462

1992

St Catharines Blue Jays

480

1993

St Catharines Blue Jays

596

1994

St Catharines Blue Jays

423

1995

St Catharines Blue Jays

673

1996

St Catharines Stompers

744

1997

St Catharines Stompers

713

1998

St Catharines Stompers

784

1999

St Catharines Stompers

617

These numbers obviously wouldn’t sustain a single A team today, as times have changed.  However, it would do a lot for an IBL team, in my opinion.

I don’t have any attendance numbers for IBL teams; since for some reason the only team that releases them is Guelph, but going off of Guelph I could assume that most teams get between 100 and 300 people per game.

The lowest attendance average from St Catharines in their Jays era was 391. I would think that an IBL team could draw crowds like that in St Catharines if they are marketed correctly.

Now, I don’t know how Community Park looks these days, as the vast percentage of the pictures online come from their days of hosting single A, so it’s impossible to know what kind of shape the stadium is in today. Considering that it’s only a free-standing grandstand park, I would take a guess that the place would need some renovations in order to host the IBL.

Keeping with Niagara, there are a couple different options, such as the stadium in Welland. Welland Stadium, as quoted from ballparkreviews.com, “is more than suitable for a Class A or Independent level team, but because of attendance woes, it seems unlikely that the city will ever get another team.”  To elaborate on that, let’s look at some attendance numbers.

Year

Team

Attendance Avg

1989

Welland Pirates

542

1990

Welland Pirates

491

1991

Welland Pirates

493

1992

Welland Pirates

509

1993

Welland Pirates

457

1994

Welland Pirates

469

1995

Welland Aqua Ducks

45

1996

Welland Aqua Ducks

89

2003

Niagara Stars

181

It goes without saying that the 1995 and 1996 season stand out.  You’ve gotta cut the Welland fans a little slack here, those were the Welland Aqua Ducks of the North Atlantic League, which was probably the least successful independent ball league in history.

Even then, I would like to see an indy team that’s drawn worse than 45 people per game.

Those numbers are alarming, and going by these numbers, Welland is an “affiliated ball or bust” type of place, as the Pittsburgh-affiliated Pirates were the only team that did well at Welland Stadium.

Of course, the NY-Penn League was also the only truly organized league to play in Welland. The Aqua Ducks and then the Niagara Stars of the CBL were never really given a fair shot.

If the league is to expand to Niagara, it has to be into one of those 2 parks. At that point it’s choosing between supposed better fan support in St Catharines, or a 4,000-seat Welland stadium that’s in great condition in Welland (I’ve been there recently in the past few years, so I can vouch for it). You don’t really know which of the 2 markets is a better fit without finer details, such as the price of a lease, but it’s almost a toss-up without taking those things into consideration.

Southern Ontario has many other suitable places for the IBL as well, such as Windsor. In fact, Windsor has been rumored to be the most likely place for the IBL to expand to. They’ve got a great little park in Mic Mac Park that looks similar to Jack Couch Park in Kitchener from Satellite. Add in the population base, and it seems like a good market to try and break in to.

Aurora-Newmarket is another interesting option. I’ve heard that there is a brand new stadium going up out there for the PAN-AM baseball games in 2015 and possibly to house an IBL team afterwards. Not sure what the stadium will look like, but if the IBL can get into a stadium with 3,000-5,000 seats it would definitely be good for business. That same logic works with Welland Stadium.

Moving to another part of the geographic spectrum, here’s an interview (expansion talk starts at 6:53) conducted by Norman James on ATV London last year with former commissioner Joe O’Neill. Obviously, Stuart Smith is now the commissioner of the league, but since he isn’t responding to my email inquiring about expansion, I’m going to assume that he has the same vision as O’Neill.

If that is the case, then I’m assuming that the IBL has the intentions of expanding to the rest of Eastern Ontario. There is already a grassroots campaign to bring IBL baseball to Kingston. In my opinion, Kingston is the best suited place in Ontario for an IBL team.

If you watched the O’Neill interview, you would’ve heard him talking about avoiding the GTA in expansion because of how much of a pain it is to find your way around the area with all the traffic, construction, etc. I agree with him, not only because of navigation around the area, but because of the availability of players.

Toronto does have a population of close to 5 Million, but there are only so many quality ball players in the area. It’s showing that the talent pool in the area is being strained when you look at where the 3 GTA teams (Toronto, Burlington, Hamilton) are in the standings.

This is why I think that the IBL should attempt to tap in to those wide open Eastern Ontario markets and Kingston is a great starting point. There is a lot to build off of out there. I don’t believe that baseball has ever been tried out there and with a population of 200,000 people to work with, they could be very successful if marketed correctly.

There’s also going to be players that could make the jump to the IBL level in Kingston. The Kingston Ponies of the NCBL—a competitive men’s league where many Fat Cats players played previously—are currently leading the tier 1 division standings of that league with a 9-4 record.

They seem like a very capable group, and while you likely couldn’t get a full team out of those guys, there are likely 7-10 guys that could compete at the IBL level. Add in some other import talent and some guys from the seaway valley and you’re set.

Now, I realize that this all is just wishful thinking without a committed ownership group, but why not dream, right?

Either way, I hope that the league is able to expand its product to other areas of Ontario soon, because there are definitely markets that are able to host IBL baseball, it’s just a question of ownership.

  1. To the best of my knowledge, Kingston hasn’t hosted a pro team since 1951, in the Border League. That said, Megaffin Park might well work. It could be worth looking into.

    • Thanks for the comment, Charlie.

      Looked into it and the Border League Kingston team drew an avg of 539 people per game in it’s best season. Taking into consideration that that was directly after a world war AND 60 years ago, baseball could be a hit there if tried again.

    • John Mart
    • June 27th, 2012

    The IBL would expand if they had prospective owners. The only thing holding back from expansion is ownership. Running an IBL franchise is not a job for an average Joe it takes time and money to run such an operation.

    This is all just talk the IBL won’t be expanding until the league is actually approached by a prospective owner. It’s so easy for everyone to say that the league is expanding here and there but really it’s all talk.

    The closest they’ve come to expansion in the past five years is in fact the Welland area which I heard from an owner two years ago but that fell through obviously and talks are no longer ongoing.

    Some things are easier said than done!

    • Yeah, as I said in my post, owners have to present themselves for this to happen.

      I’ve heard that it’s very tough to make a profit in the IBL as well, so that could be a turn off.

    • Gail
    • June 29th, 2012

    “…many Fat Cats played there.” Hmmm, wondering which ones?

    • Gagnon, Boisvert and Stone are the only ones that I’m positive about.

      There’s usually been 3-5 players/season with NCBL roots on the Fat Cats.

    • dave marquis
    • January 3rd, 2013

    now is a perfect time to bring in Kingston now that the fat cats are gone.

    • It’s funny Dave, other IBL fans are suggesting that the eastern “experiment” is done and Kingston won’t be considered. These are the same people who didn’t want the Fat Cats to materialize and were against having the team around.

      Personally, I agree with you.

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