CFO Magazine reported that the 27 Class AAA teams had annual growth rates of 13 percent in 2001, and that their margins might be as high as 70 percent. Teams also cost more when they sell these days. Round Rock's Miller estimates that the asking price for a Class AA team is $9 million and a Class AAA team $15 million; compare that to the mid-1980s, he says, when a minor league team could be had by assuming its debt, often as little as $100,000.
Why the huge leap in value? First and foremost is attendance, which can provide a couple million dollars in cash flow without all that much effort. Another is subsidized costs. The major leagues pay almost all player expenses, and their home cities and towns have financed 27 new minor league stadiums since 1999. In Frisco, Texas, for example - where the Texas Rangers and Mandalay Sports Entertainment will jointly run the RoughRiders - the city paid $23 million for an 8,800-seat ballpark with 29 luxury suites and a private club.
"The old parks weren't comfortable, and they weren't clean," says Arthur Johnson, the author of Minor League Baseball and Local Economic Development. "Compared to them, the new parks are money machines. You get a decent lease, and most of the teams do, and you're going to fill it up."
Which leads to the other key difference: marketing. The new breed of minor- league owners understands it in a way the old-timers never did. Past owners thought they were selling baseball to baseball fans. Today's owners know that selling tickets isn't about the game, but about the family that goes to the game.