Minor league baseball has always been attractive to fans as an inexpensive form of family entertainment. The focus at games has been as much on in-between inning entertainment and food as it has been on the play on the field.
With the increase in popularity of fantasy baseball and the proliferation of media on the Internet, interest in minor league baseball for the players on the field has risen significantly. Minor League Baseball has responded to that increase in fan interest with their website MiLB.com and their online streaming game service, MiLB.tv.
Gary Green, co-founder of Alliance Baseball LLC, which owns the Double-A Richmond Flying Squirrels and the Triple-A Omaha StormChasers, is looking to take that fan interest in the minor leagues one step further. An avid participant in fantasy sports himself, Green is the driving force behind Futures Fantasy Baseball, Minor League Baseball’s first official fantasy baseball game.
The game allows fantasy players to select new line-ups of top minor league prospects on a weekly basis. Futures Fantasy players will be able to leverage their knowledge of prospects, as well as minor league ballparks, match-ups, etc. to compete with other players for a host of different prizes, including minor league merchandise and a grand prize of two season tickets to a minor league team of their choice. Team sign-ups are going on now and game play begins on MiLB’s Opening Day, April 7.
Green hopes that this game will help Minor League Baseball continue to grow as a business.
“We have been in the Minor League Baseball business since 2008. We are big baseball fans and we are big fantasy players,” Green said. “What’s been happening with all sports and in baseball is that people are paying attention to out-of-market games because they have players in their fantasy leagues – whether that is daily fantasy or any type of fantasy leagues – they are paying attention to games that they normally wouldn’t.
“I was new to the minor league baseball industry and I was thinking about how much value these major league teams have because of their television contracts. Realizing that the TV contracts are fantasy-driven, how can we as a minor league baseball industry draw eyeballs to watch our games? We didn’t have to look too far to see that because fantasy has really increased the viewership for MLB. I said to myself, ‘why can’t we create a minor league game and, on a smaller level, have the same thing happen?’”
Green believes that minor league fantasy games will increase fans’ interest in the minor leaguers themselves and capitalize on baseball’s increased focus on younger players breaking into the big leagues and starring for successful teams.
“You see teams like the Iowa Cubs end up putting quite a few players the Chicago Cubs’ playoff team,” Green said. “Players are breaking in much more quickly and they are staying. There is much more focus on the rookies and the prospects than maybe the older players that used to grab the limelight.”
Green believes that Futures Fantasy will lead fans to watching more minor league games via MiLB.tv in order to see the “next big thing” before he reaches the big stage.
“We would see, like with Yordano Ventura when he pitched in Omaha, people hear about him and they can’t get enough of reading about him and they can barely see him. Noah Snydergaard in Las Vegas the year after was the same thing,” Green said. “They almost have this kind of mythic image like you know that they are out there but people don’t get to see them and follow them.
“We have this great MiLB network for minor league baseball [MiLB.tv]. We felt like there should be even more interest in the network because there is such an attraction to the Syndergaards and the Venturas and the Byron Buxtons and the Kris Bryants. Fantasy is making MLB players popular with fans outside of their home markets. Why can’t we do that with minor league baseball?”
Futures Fantasy has a team of experts who will produce a list of 100 top Triple-A and Double-A prospects each week that fantasy players can choose to add to their line-ups. The scoring is fairly straight-forward: a win is worth five points, a homerun is worth four, etc. There are no negative scoring plays.
The player list will change weekly, so if a prospect is promoted to the big leagues, he won’t remain on the list the following week and fantasy players will be encouraged to play a variety of prospects throughout the season. At least initially, the site will use only prospects from Double-A and Triple-A, in large part because those players are the ones closest to making an impact in the major leagues.
Green says that when beta testing the game, it became clear that fans’ knowledge of the differences between different leagues and parks is a significant advantage.
“You’ve got to look at the match-ups. It’s like regular fantasy baseball. If a starter has two starts coming up, you might want to use him,” Green said. “If a starter is pitching in Colorado Springs, you might not want to put him in there. If you have a hitter playing in Colorado Springs, you would. I own two minor league teams and when I started playing the game, my knowledge of minor league players went up exponentially in a matter of months.”
Green presented the game at the First Pitch Arizona, a fantasy baseball symposium, last fall and he said that the avid fantasy players at the conference had a positive reaction to the game and said that playing Futures Fantasy would give them a leg-up in their major-league fantasy games.
“What they loved about it is that it’s not a technical game. It’s more of a fans’ game,” Green said. “A fun game, but the reason that they liked it is that if you have knowledge of the names that are out there, if you can stash them in a keeper league or stash them on your bench, you are going to have a better team. It’s great for a reference.”
For more information about Futures Fantasy Baseball, visit the website at http://www.futuresfantasybaseball.com/.