The new owners of the Mobile BayBears will be eyeing a new stadium proposal in Madison after that city approved hundreds of thousands of dollars for design of a ballpark, but no decision about the team’s relocation has been made.
Cecilia Showalter, an attorney representing BallCorps, said the team will play the 2018 season in Mobile, but beyond that it is unclear. BallCorps does have exploration rights to Madison, but has not filed for relocation, she said.
“We’re looking at the project to see whether it will work for our needs,” she said. “Right now a series of things will have to happen.”
Madison has agreed to pay ballpark design firm Populus $250,000 for initial designs “to continue to stay in the game,” City Council President Tommy Overcash said.
The money to pay for the design will come from a lodging tax increase, similar to what nearby Huntsville has done, Overcash said.
Overcash said the city feels there is economic development potential in luring a Minor League Baseball team like the BayBears to Madison.
“There’s a lot of interest in Minor League Baseball brewing,” he said. “It’s not your father’s destination anymore.”
There was a Southern League team in Huntsville called the Stars. The team moved from Huntsville to Biloxi and became the Shuckers in 2015. The Stars had the lowest average attendance in 2012, 2013 and 2014, according to the Southern League’s website.
In its first full season in Biloxi, the team raised the average by about 1,000 guests per game.
In 2017, the BayBears had the lowest average attendance in the league at 1,498 guests per game. In contrast, the Birmingham Barons averaged the most fans per game at 5,935. The Jackson (Tenn.) Generals ranked second to last with 1,775 fans per game and Biloxi ranked third from last with 2,572 guests per game. The Pensacola Blue Wahoos, on the other hand, were fourth in average attendance with 4,320 fans per game.
The BayBears also were the only team not to break the 100,000 combined guest threshold, according to the league website.
Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s office has spoken to the new owners and is holding out hope he can convince the team to stay, spokesman George Talbot said. However, the city has been in contact with other entities outside of Minor League Baseball to see if there is any interest in using Hank Aaron Stadium, acting Chief of Staff and Finance Director Paul Wesch said. Any additional details on those discussions are confidential, he said.
The club is under contract to play at the 20-year-old stadium until March 2020. City spokeswoman Laura Byrne has previously said that under the contract the BayBears would have to pay the city $380,400 if the team leaves in 2019. In an attempt to hold up its end of the contract, the city has recently spent thousands of dollars to upgrade the lights, sound system, seats, playing surface and other amenities at the city-owned facility.