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Volume 21 No. 1
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Buffalo, Vegas look likely to change affiliations

The New York Mets, a key club in a minor league affiliation shuffle four years ago, are expected to be a focal point in the coming 2012 cycle: Their Class AAA affiliate in Buffalo is likely to seek a new partner.

Losing has cut crowds at Buffalo’s Coca-Cola Field, where a Mets affiliate plays.
Major and minor league teams are allowed to seek new affiliate partners each September in even-numbered years, with the 2012 period beginning Sept. 16. The reaffiliation periods have become more prominent as the affiliated minor leagues have taken on greater importance as marketing and sales assets and sources of media content, and as some major league clubs have grouped their minor league affiliates in geographic clusters.

Four years ago, the Mets were among the available clubs most coveted by minor league affiliates. U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer heavily stumped for the team to go to Syracuse, but the Mets struck a surprise deal with the Buffalo Bisons.

But the Buffalo-Mets alignment has brought two losing seasons, a third all but assured, and sharply declining attendance at Coca-Cola Field, at one time the top draw in all of Minor League Baseball. The Bisons’ steady losing has become quite unpopular in Buffalo, one of only five minor league markets with two big league teams.

“Winning is certainly important to this market,” said Jon Dandes, president of Rich Baseball Operations, which owns the Bisons. “We don’t look at winning and player development as mutually exclusive.”

The Bisons are strongly rumored to be heading toward an alignment with the Toronto Blue Jays, which for four years have held an unwieldy affiliation with Las Vegas. The 51s play more than 2,200 miles from Toronto in one of the most outdated stadiums in Class AAA. The Mets will be headed somewhere in the Pacific Coast League with their Class AAA club, since Buffalo is the only International League franchise with an expiring affiliation deal.

Dandes declined to comment specifically on the Bisons’ plans, citing confidentiality provisions backed by fines included in the reaffiliation process. Mets executives also declined to comment. But Minor League Baseball President Pat O’Conner said surprises are likely next month.

“This is always something that never ceases to surprise me,” O’Conner said. “As always, there are a couple of key clubs that serve as sort of the trigger on this whole thing.”