Friday, July 18, 2008
IBL Takes a Step Back, Plans Exhibition Series Before Re-Launching a Winter League and Summer Season in 2009
OK, they are taking a step back to get their bearings and build some momentum, but it looks like they are sticking it out to make this league possible, which is a very good thing. I think patience will pay off.
It also looks like they are doing a little pruning and repotting to grow this league carefully, which is also not a bad idea. It is easy to be too ambitious and too eager when you love something very much and you expect others to love it as much as you do.
I am very sentimentally attached to the idea of Israeli baseball. G-d willing, this will finally succeed. I guess time will tell.
Israeli baseball league to shorten season
Beleaguered professional league unveils latest shakeup, to hold brief exhibition series against international players before launching winter league. 'Plan to host Olympic style baseball festival fabulous way to promote the sport, give Israeli athletes attention they deserve as local baseball heroes,' IBL president says
Published: 07.17.08, 07:49 / Israel Culture
Israel's beleaguered professional baseball league unveiled its latest plan for survival on Wednesday, saying it would scale back its upcoming season to a brief exhibition series next month before launching a winter league and returning to full strength next summer.
The shakeup was the latest twist in the league's short but tumultuous history. Just last month, the league said it was coming back for a second season after its first season left it on the brink of collapse. At the time, it said four teams would compete, down from six last year, and the season would be cut in half to 20 games.
But after further discussions, the league's new management concluded a brief tournament pitting an Israeli all-star team against international players would be the best way to generate fan interest and showcase homegrown talent, said David Solomont, a Boston businessman and the IBL's interim president.
He said the best-of-seven series, which will include youth clinics, would begin on Aug. 14 to coincide with the Beijing Olympics.
"The plan to host an Olympic style baseball festival is a fabulous way to promote the sport and give the Israeli athletes the attention they deserve as local baseball heroes," he said.
The international team will be comprised of all-star players from last year, the league said.
The inaugural 2007 season delivered a respectable level of play, roughly on par with single-A minor league baseball in the US, and more than a dozen players went on to sign professional contracts.
'More robust, sophisticated league'
But in a Middle Eastern country where soccer is king and baseball is little more than a curiosity, the league suffered from low attendance, financial difficulties and a mass defection of executive board members after the season. The troubles fueled persistent rumors that the league would fold.
Solomont said the new management has raised enough money to pay off all remaining debts and finance the league for at least two more seasons. He said the league's new investors believe it can be profitable.
"In the next three to five years, the challenge, and the opportunity, is to develop a local fan base," he said.
Former Boston Red Sox General Manager Dan Duquette, who oversaw player development last year, will now take on an expanded role as director of operations. Duquette and new board member Gary Woolf, a Boston businessman with years of sports-management experience, will oversee long-term development, including the launch of the winter league in southern Israel.
"Now that the potential is established a more robust and sophisticated league, teams, management and vision can be engaged," Woolf said. "The entire team believes this enterprise can become an explosive element not only in Israel but have international marketing and business appeal."
Solomont said the league hopes to begin winter play this year, though he said facilities have not yet been arranged. The long-term goal is to attract international players like the winter leagues in the Caribbean.
"This is going to be the Dominican Republic of the Middle East," he said.
Solomont does not expect to serve as league president for long. It is in the process of hiring a full-time staff, including senior sports-marketing professionals who will be based in Israel and the U.S.
The league's founder, Boston businessman Larry Baras, will no longer be involved, and Dan Rootenberg, a former player who was appointed league president last month, has decided not to accept the position, the league said.