The first domino of the 2018 affiliation shuffle fell yesterday—and it was a doozy. The Las Vegas 51s inked a two-year player-development contract with the Oakland A’s, the lone West Coast team available at the Triple-A level. 51s President Don Logan told the Las Vegas Review Journal that having an affiliate nearby was a deciding factor in the agreement, as was his friendship with A’s Executive Vice President Billy Beane.
“Geography matters,” Logan said. “How much it matters, I don’t know, but when you’ve got the list of teams available and there’s one West Coast team, which is Oakland, it just made sense and the fact that . . . Billy and I are friends.”
The minor league season may not conclude until Monday, but a new attendance champion could very well be crowned by the end of Thursday evening. The Charlotte Knights hold the slimmest of leads over the Round Rock Express—averaging just 115 more fans through last night’s games—with each team having just two more home games on the schedule. Whichever team pulls in the biggest late-season crowds are likely to take the attendance crown from the defending champion Indianapolis Indians.
Then again, there could be a dark horse looming in this race. More on that in a minute . . .
A weeknight game in late August can be a tough time of year for a team to pad its attendance figures, and that proved to be the case for Charlotte (International League) and Round Rock (Pacific Coast) last night. The Knights drew 8,437 fans to BB&T Ballpark last night, slightly below their season average of 8,932. Meanwhile, the Express also saw their average attendance take a dip to 8,817 after bringing in 7,134 fans to Dell Diamond.
Round Rock does hold the edge over the Knights in total attendance by a 599,537 to 598,413 margin, but will also have the benefit of one more home date; the Knights are not making up a previous cancellation.
For proof of the power of a well-run new ballpark, simply take a peek at the current attendance leaders. As the season crosses its midpoint, two of the top three draws in the minors are teams that recently struggled in outdated, out-of-the-way stadiums only to see the potential of their markets realized with moves to new downtown stadiums.
The Charlotte Knights (International League) have hardly slowed down in their fifth season at BB&T Ballpark, topping the minors by averaging 8,790 fans in 36 openings. Two spots down the list resides the Nashville Sounds (Pacific Coast), which likewise have continued to fill First Tennessee Park since its opening in 2015 and rank third in the minors this season with an 8,316 average in 39 openings.