The summer collegiate Alaska Baseball League has been under increasing pressure because of growing competition from the burgeoning West Coast League and the rest of the summer collegiate industry. From our perspective, the ABL has been flirting with near irrelevancy for some time because it has failed to evolve — at least from a business standpoint. This is troublesome, because the league has so much to offer.
The Not So Good News
(1) The ABL has let other leagues pass it by. It is going to take money, and a smart and aggressive campaign to turn it around.
(2) The ABL has appeared headless to us. The league needs a strong business and marketing-minded commissioner with the power to develop and implement a strategic revitalization plan.
(3) Facilities in the ABL need upgrading. This doesn’t necessarily mean fancy new ballparks, but it does mean new fan amenities (even on the cheap) focused on building attendance and reputation.
(4) The ABL still competes in the National Baseball Congress (NBC) World Series. The cost to travel and compete in this annual tournament in Wichita is not cheap, and no other top summer collegiate leagues participate in it. Except for fun and potential bragging rights, the benefits to the ABL seem marginal at best.
The Good News
(1) The ABL has a long and storied history. The league needs to market and capitalize on it.
(2) We love the ABL’s logo, so the branding foundation on which to build a new marketing campaign is already in place.
(3) The location is fantastic, despite the incredible travel to get there. The ABL should market the heck out of the scenery and outdoor activities to college players and baseball tourists across the lower 48 states.
(4) The Alaska Goldpanners still host of the annual ”Midnight Sun Game” at Growden Memorial Park in Fairbanks. This event is incredibly unique and should be exloited to the highest degree by all teams and the league.
(5) The league has launched a new website. The ABL’s old online presence was absolutely atrocious and unacceptable for a long-time league of this caliber.
(6) The ABL has added the more travel-friendly Chugiak-Eagle River Chinooks to the league’s 2012 lineup. Read more here. The team will play at Loretta French Field in Chugiak. Like the former Fairbanks Fire, Christian-based Athletes in Action will operate the club, so no chugging beers in Chugiak. (Okay, we know it’s pronounced “choog” and not “chug,” but play along anyway.) While it’s not the perfect business model, the new team gives the ABL signs of life, which is particuarly important after the Goldpanners took more than half the season off last year because of money troubles.
In our view, the ABL has many obstacles to return to prominence, but there is great potential here for the league, if it’s willing to make the changes necessary to re-claim the mantle as one of summer collegiate baseball’s top circuits.