United League Baseball, the league that owns and operates the Coastal Bend Thunder, announced Friday it is joining forces with three other leagues to create a new professional independent league that will be known as the North American League.
Joining the ULB will be the Golden Baseball League and the Northern League.
According to a press release from the organization, the league will have 16 - 20 teams in multiple countries and cover many of the major markets in the U.S. and Canada in 2011, with expansion already set for 2012. Except for Major League Baseball, it will be the largest professional league in terms of number of teams and geographies and amongst the top minor leagues in terms of attendance, officials said. The existing leagues will keep their names and their baseball operations structure while consolidating and enhancing a number of business activities and will adhere to a single and consistent set of league operating by-laws.
"This is an exciting opportunity for the teams of these three leagues," Kevin Outcalt, chief executive of Diamond Sports and Entertainment, the company that owns and operates the Golden League and will administer the North American League, said in a press release. "This will provide more value to our marketing and business partners, more exposure for our players to advance their careers, and increased excitement and fun for the fans of all of our ballclubs. In addition, the business advantages of league-wide advertising and sponsor revenue, collective/volume purchasing to lower costs, and shared best practices amongst the teams in the league should drive additional profitability for the North American League member clubs."
Jerry Deal, a representative of the ULB, said Friday the structure of the NAL will be set up with the three original leagues covering their respective regions, where the teams will play approximately 75 percent of their games within their region and 25 percent outside their region/division. This will be followed by playoffs that will conclude with a North American Championship Series.
"It's going to be a lot better deal," Deal said. "And it's going to be a lot better financially, too."
It is anticipated that the league will play a 92 - 100 game regular season schedule that will be determined at the inaugural NAL meetings that will be held in northern California at the end of this month. All of the existing Golden League, Northern League, and United League teams will be part of the circuit, and it is expected that additional teams will be announced in the coming weeks as well.
Deal did say that the ULB is currently down to four teams, from the six it had last season.
"They're going to have to pick up a couple of teams, because they lost Amarillo and Laredo," Deal said. "Amarillo went into the American Association, and Laredo is going to build a new stadium, but they don't have it built yet. They won't be in this year."
That will leave Coastal Bend, Edinburgh, San Angelo and Harlingen in the ULB. The organization is in talks with additional cities to bring the league back to six teams, Deal said.
The full slate of 2011 NAL teams and the makeup of each region will be announced following the league meeting. Baseball related playing rules will also be finalized including player classification/eligibility and playing rules (National League or American League).
"This is an excellent move for the Northern League," Northern League Commissioner Clark Griffith said in a press release. "By becoming part of this new league, we will enjoy benefits that can't be found anywhere else in minor league baseball and some exciting opportunities that were never available in the Northern League in the past."
Although these three leagues totaled 35 percent of the professional independent minor league baseball teams in North America in 2010, they were responsible for placing half of the players on the Baseball America Indy Top Prospects list and six of the fourteen players named to the all Independent Leagues First Team by Baseball America. In addition, the three leagues have sold 35 player contracts to major league organizations so far in 2010 and are all recognized as an important source of baseball talent including players, umpires, coaches/managers, and front office/business personnel by big league clubs.
Byron Pierce, United League president, stated, "The United League is pleased to announce it is becoming part of North American League Baseball. By doing so the United League will be able to bring a national presence and the rich tradition of three leagues to each of our United League cities, while maintaining our regional rivalries and identity."
The NAL is the largest, in number of teams and geography, professional independent baseball league worldwide. With operations in Western Canada, Mexico, and much of the United States the league brings affordable family entertainment to over two million fans a season. Formed in the fall of 2010, through a combination of three leagues with over 30 seasons of playing experience between them, the NAL is able to offer opportunities to players and marketing partners that cannot be found in any other league. League play level is considered AA to AAA, the alumni of the three founding leagues (Golden, Northern, United) have seen over 40 of their group reach the major leagues over the years and another 35 players had their contracts purchased by MLB organizations in 2010.