Aspen whiffs on CBL bid
Ron Baron, president and CEO of the fledgling Continental Baseball League, fully expects to have franchises in two Colorado cities by time for the first pitch next May.Aspen isn’t one of them. The city, which the league initially targeted as a potential team site, has been crossed off the list for the foreseeable future, Baron said Tuesday. The league no longer considers Aspen economically viable, in part because it has yet to attract potential investors, Baron said. Concerns about creating a sustainable fan base also weighed heavily in the decision. “To be honest, we haven’t had a lot of interest,” Baron said. “We’ve been doing research and looking at demographics, and we just don’t think it will be as successful as other markets.”
Aspen was one of seven cities in the state the independent league initially targeted; that list is down to three, Baron confirmed. The cities that remain are Fort Collins, Longmont and Grand Junction – a site that did not appear on the initial list.In its haste to pinpoint long-term suitors for CBL franchises, Baron said the league was attracted to Aspen’s illustrious name, reputation and marketing capabilities. The initial draw, however, gave way to pressing concerns. “We loved the potential of the market and it seemed like a perfect fit,” Baron said. “We’re just not sure that the numbers [of people] will be able to support baseball.”The league targeted sites with populations between 80,000 and 180,000, according to a press release. Aspen’s population, which was 5,717 in July 2004, according to census data, was initially overlooked. The six other cities the league initially considered – Pueblo, Fort Collins, Thornton, Longmont, Greeley and Boulder have an average population of 98,383. As he delved into the research, Baron surmised that, because the bulk of the city’s summer population is transient, Aspen would have a difficult time attracting the 1,000 fans the league hopes to draw to each game.The CBL also endeavored to find cities where it “would be the only game in town,” league operations and communications director Bob Ibach told The Aspen Times in May. It became increasingly clear that such an aim would be impossible in a resort town during the height of a busy summer.A CBL franchise in the city, which would play 80 games during a 13-week season beginning May 25, would have to contend with a host of events that dominate the calendar. It would be not only naive but fiscally risky to assume the league could create enough of a draw, Baron said.
“We have to look at what we’d be competing against in that market,” Baron said. “When you look at it compared to others in terms of sheer population perspective and entertainment options, Aspen has a lower population and much more entertainment. That’s a difficult thing to overcome.”The commitment and excitement of the community is so crucial.”Potential investors have come forward in Longmont, Fort Collins and Grand Junction, and demographics give the league its best shot at long-term success, Baron said. While Grand Junction’s population is 44,693, according to 2004 census data, Longmont (80,627) and Fort Collins (137,177) are within the parameters the league initially drew up. Baron said in May that one franchise on the Western Slope could thrive; that now appears to be Grand Junction. The city has a decided advantage over others when it comes to the infrastructure to support a franchise, as well as proven community interest. Mesa State College’s Suplizio Field, which annually hosts the Junior College World Series, seats up to 9,000. In 2003, The Mavericks finished second in NCAA Division II in total attendance, according to the school’s website.
“We think [Grand Junction] is a natural fit for us,” Baron said.Aspen is one of many cities across eight states that have been weeded out thus far. Only 18 of 42 sites pinpointed in Colorado, Texas, Louisiana, Missouri, New Mexico, Kansas, Arkansas and Oklahoma continue to remain realistic options, Baron said.While Aspen won’t be part of the league’s charter franchises next year, Baron said he isn’t ready to completely sever ties with the city. He wants to revisit a partnership in a few years, once the league is well-established and is “hopefully thriving.”The major hurdles that impeded the process this time around, however, will not go away any time soon. “We’ll at least keep the door open,” Baron said.Jon Maletz’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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