The start-up circuit hasn’t yet played a game, but Expedition League (Summer Collegiate) founder Scott Wagner is already targeting Butte, Bozeman and Helena in Montana for expansion in 2019, along with Sheridan in Wyoming, Rapid City in South Dakota and Brandon in Manitoba. The league plans to begin play this season in eight cities located in North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Wyoming. Read more here.
It’s a herculean task just to get a single franchise off the ground successfully, and any team owner needs to pony up at least $100,000 and bring in operational expertise to do it right, so we will be watching very closely who takes the reins to own and operate these franchises. We have a lot of questions, and we have reached out to Mr. Wagner to ask them.
We don’t claim to be a gatekeeper or caretaker for the region, but we are a knowledgeable watchdog with a certain paternal fondness for the upper Mountain West because of our strong historical and familial connections to it.
Now, in the name of full disclosure, we’ve talked with a few industry professionals and markets about leading an effort to bring a summer collegiate league to the region, because we know the markets and untapped footprint well, and nobody else has stepped up to the plate to try and fill the void until now. Let’s be clear — this isn’t about competition for markets, but what is best for the region? Indeed, if Mr. Wagner is launching the Expedition League and its franchises in the right way, that’s good news for baseball and the markets. But, if not, and failures happen like the many fly-by-night independent leagues over the years, that’s a different story.
We worry that the Expedition League is spreading itself too thin, too early, and could develop into a far-flung, unstable circuit without the proper foundation built through methodical, patient growth. The powerhouse Northwoods League, for example, started out with five teams in a very tight footprint with all franchises less than four hours away from each other. It took years and growing pains to be where they are today – 25 years later. The Expedition League’s apparent Manifest Destiny seeks to do what the Northwoods League has done in a mere two-year time frame.
In the past, many failed independent leagues handed out franchises like candy to see which ones would stick. Failures were an acceptable reality, they would believe, as long as there were a sufficient number of survivors to keep the league operating. We’ve always detested that strategy. Team failures burn fans, sponsors and vendors. They can pollute once-promising markets for years to come. And these worst-case results can splash up on those community leaders who made the decision to bring a team to town in the first place.
We don’t know what the future holds for the Expedition League. We wish them the best. But we would encourage those making decisions about allowing any circuit to use their ballparks to exercise caution and patience as they do their due diligence. The slick logos/branding on the surface are nice and provide a professional feel, but what’s under the hood? We don’t know. We’ll have a better idea once the league begins to play its first season. Stay tuned.