March 20th in baseball history: Minors make major comeback

Less is MORE

WASHINGTON, D.C. - There was a time when Major League Baseball rules prevented teams from broadcasting games within 50 miles of a minor league ball park. The thinking was the major league broadcasts hurt minor league attendance. That appeared to be the case, but in 1949 the U-S Justice Department said the rule violated anti-trust laws. The broadcasts had to be allowed. As U-S Senator Edwin Johnson put it, "Then the heavens caved in."

Senator Johnson's reaction may have been a little hyperbolic, but on this date in 1953 the Colorado democrat introduced a bill that would leave it up to each individual team whether to allow major league broadcasts in minor league towns. Johnson said the broadcasts, many now via television, were destroying minor league baseball in small cities and towns, but is that still the case?

According to Minor League Baseball statistics, and an analysis by market research analyst David P. Kroneim of numbertamer.com, in 1949 there were 438 teams in 59 minor leagues. Total attendance was 39,630,433. When Senator Johnson introduced his bill in 1953 the number of leagues had dropped from to 39 and many of them on shaky ground. Johnson's bill did not pass, and the minor leagues continued their downward spiral. By 1963 there were only 20 minor leagues and 132 teams across North America.

But broadcasting may eventually have breathed life into minor league baseball because it is booming today.

There has been a steady increase in the number of teams and total attendance since the 1960's. In 2008 there were 185 affiliated and independent minor league teams in the U-S and Mexico, and Kronheim's analysis shows an all-time attendance record of 51,576,409 was set - the 24th straight year attendance had gone up. The recession bit into attendance in 2009 (49,609,703) and 2010 (49,537,502), but it is still higher than any year prior to 2006.

And, as MiLB.com likes to point out, minor league baseball outdraws the NFL and the NBA. 

Contributing sources:
2011 Minor League attendance (BaseballAmerica) 
Official site of Minor League Baseball 
David P. Kroneim, numbertamer,com 
The Associated Press, Washington, D.C., March 21, 1953
Street & Smith's SportsBusiness Daily, September 16, 2008
Lawrence-Journal World & News, by Gene Budig, February 22, 2009

This baseball history story about minor league baseball is brought to you by TODAY in BASEBALL.