AUSTRALIAN BASEBALL LEAGUE
2016 NEWS ITEM

4 AUGUST 2016 - MLB DESERTS ABL BUT BASEBALL RETURNS TO OLYMPICS

For those of us who have feared the worst for the long-term future of the Australian Baseball League over recent seasons, we awoke to the sobering news that Major League Baseball has decided to officially withdraw its financial support for our national league. At the same time we were uplifted by confirmation that baseball (and softball) will be restored as summer Olympic sports from Tokyo 2020.

So, after six seasons, one more than their original commitment, USA's mighty major league baseball has finally decided that it can no longer significantly bankroll our Australian Baseball League as it continues to be a funding headache for those fine people who have tried and tried to make our game a financially viable proposition. It has been published that MLB was providing something like 75% of the league's funding, so it will be extremely difficult to replace in the short and the long term, to say the least.

People like 'Flintoff & Dunn', who still have vivid memories of how the original ABL struggled through the 1990's, cannot really be surprised that our beloved game of baseball still faces an uphill battle to survive on a national league platform as a "niche sport" on a congested and highly competitive Australian sporting landscape.

Initial indications are that Baseball Australia will largely fund the ABL for the 2016/17 season with a reduced 40-game schedule, while private ownership models will be the likely objective for the ongoing future of the league. Unfortunately, that is a something that has a rather familiar ring to it and a rather painful one for those loyal owners and part-owners who invested their hard earned in the original league as a "labour of love" more so than holding out any hope of even breaking even. The league was a very good baseball league and a terrific sporting product, but making it profitable was a task beyond the capability of even the most astute business investors.

Of course, for the good of the sport and our National League, 'Flintoff & Dunn' will always be optimistic that a magic wand of some description can be found to give our national league the longevity we need, yet we will all be kidding ourselves if we think that this will be easy. The fact that MLB could not provide the necessary impetus to put our current ABL on a path to a more certain long-term future is another body blow to national league baseball in this country and, unfortunately, a salient warning to prospective investors.

However, there should not be total "doom and gloom" for those of us who still crave national level competition. If all else fails there was very little wrong with the last incarnation of our Claxton Shield competition in the 2010 format that immediately preceded the current ABL. We could do worse than return to that model.

As for the restoration of baseball as a summer Olympic Games sport... this is simply about time! In our view it was a genuine travesty when a traditional and long-standing Olympic sport like baseball was excluded from the Olympic games program chiefly because it was "too hard" for some countries to provide suitable venues. It was always highly likely that baseball would return when the Olympics were awarded to a nation with a baseball heritage and, clearly, Japan fits that description. While this is very good news for Australian baseballers who can aspire to represent their country in Olympic competition, there is some query as to how this competition will find itself a "point of difference" from the World Baseball Classic if it is open to all levels of professional baseball. Time will tell!

We will watch these future developments with great interest.