Inaugural season 2010–11
No. of teams 6
|Formerly Australian Baseball League|
Founder Australian Baseball Federation & Major League Baseball
The Australian Baseball League (ABL) is a professional baseball league in Australia. The league is governed by the Australian Baseball Federation (ABF), and is jointly funded by the ABF, Major League Baseball (MLB) and the Australian Federal Government. It uses the same name as a now defunct competition held during the 1990s, and though it shares some history of the original league with the Claxton Shield awarded to winners of both competitions, it is considered to be a separate competition.
- Original league
- Regular season
- All Star Game
- Asia Series
- Media coverage
- Current clubs
- Potential expansion
- Principal partners
- Licensed suppliers
The current champions are the Brisbane Bandits.
Because the ABL's season takes place from November through February, the ABL has several players who also play in the minor leagues in North America, making it similar to a winter league (although it is summer in Australia when the season takes place.)
The ABL is jointly owned by MLB (75%) and the ABF (25%). Rather than following more traditional models of the franchises being owned privately by individuals or organisations, the league is the owner of each team. One of the rationales for this structure is to closely manage the financial situation, helping to ensure that all teams are equally viable. It is expected that this arrangement will continue for at least the first five seasons: the period of time covered by the financial commitment made by MLB and the ABF.
As a result of the central ownership of the teams, all players are paid by the league. This is to ensure that no team receives an unfair advantage over any other with regards to financial success. The payscale has set a number of tiers which group players of similar experience levels, with all players in the same tier receiving the same pay. The ABL has considered the possibility of having one or two marquee players paid above the standard scale, though no final decision has been made with regard to this. One concern about high rates of pay expressed by the ABF was that it was a contributing factor, if not the main factor, in the failure of the previous Australian Baseball League. ABF management has also expressed the concern that if this league were to fail, there may never be another opportunity for professional baseball in Australia.
The business model is heavily reliant on local team following as, for reason of distance, it is unlikely that away teams will attract significant fan followings other than Sydney-Canberra.
Baseball was brought to Australia by American gold miners and played on the gold fields of Ballarat for fun on their rest days in the 1850s. Cricketers Gaggin & Goldsmith tried to play baseball at Yarra Park, Melbourne in 1867, but Australian rules football fans arriving for the adjacent football disrupted the games. The first series of full competitive games of baseball by Australians were played by members of the Surry Baseball Club on Moore Park and by members of the NSW Cricket Association on the adjacent Sydney Cricket Ground in June/July 1878. In 1881, American residents formed a Union Baseball Club and a year later with Australians, formed a Sydney Baseball Club with U.S. Consul Gilderoy Wells Griffin forming a NSW Baseball Association in 1885. Following the A.G. Spalding tour by the Chicago White Sox and All-America teams in 1888/9, Harry Simpson stayed in Australia, formed baseball clubs in Melbourne, Adelaide, Broken Hill, and eventually Sydney with competition games being played. Simpson also travelled to New Zealand to promote baseball. When he suddenly died in September 1891, after setting up the NSW Baseball League, it was a New Zealander, Tony Chuck, who took his place in Australia.
The original Australian Baseball League commenced in 1989. At the time it replaced the Claxton Shield as the top baseball competition in the country, with eight teams from Adelaide, Brisbane, Gold Coast, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney. Over the course of the league's life, teams were also based in Canberra and Newcastle, with the number of teams competing in any one season varying from six to nine. Only four teams contested each of the ten seasons, with the others folding due to financial problems, or due to a lack of a suitable venue for home games.
The financial difficulties were not restricted to the clubs, as the league was forced to close after the summer of 1999. Running at a loss of A$2 million a season, the rights to the league were sold to Dave Nilsson—an Australian Major League Baseball player with the Milwaukee Brewers at the time—for a reported A$5 million.
On 1 July 2009, a joint press-conference was held by the ABF, MLB and Australian Federal Government at the Palm Meadows Baseball Complex on the Gold Coast in Queensland, the site of the Major League Baseball Australian Academy Program (MLBAAP). During the conference the intention to resurrect a national baseball league for Australia was announced, with the Government announcing A$400,000 towards the new league. Though some sources reported that the new league could be running as early as October 2010, there had been no official timeframe released for the new league to commence.
Initial reports suggested the competition would likely include between eight and ten teams from around Australia. Discussions were held between the ABF and Baseball New Zealand about the possibility of a team based in New Zealand being included in the competition. The offer, however, was declined on the basis that there was not sufficient infrastructure, specifically citing the need for a suitable stadium and a major sponsor for the team. The possibility of a New Zealand team joining the competition at some point in the future has not been ruled out though.
There were additional concerns about the viability of a team based in South Australia, primarily based on the lack of a suitable stadium with lights to be able to play night games. This, along with playing on baseball-specific grounds — as opposed to playing on temporarily converted rugby league grounds as had been the case in the old ABL — was seen as a necessary requirement to insure the long-term profitability of the competition.
In August 2009, a bid process was launched by the Australian Capital Territory Baseball Association (ACTBA) for a team to be based in Canberra with the name and motto of "Let's Do It Canberra". The bid was not in competition with any other bids, but was required to meet certain minimum standards, such as fan and sponsorship support, to be successful and join the other five teams from Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney that were at the time confirmed. On 18 November 2009, it was announced by the ABF that the Canberra bid was successful, confirming that the inaugural season would include six teams.
In December 2009, a competition was launched for fans to decide the names of the foundation franchises, called "Name Your ABL Team". For each franchise, four team-name options were available to choose from, in addition to being able to enter another name created by the entrant. In August 2010, the names of the teams were announced, along with team logos and colours: Adelaide Bite, Brisbane Bandits, Canberra Cavalry, Melbourne Aces, Perth Heat, and Sydney Blue Sox.
For the inaugural season, the regular season was played from November through to January over ten weeks, similarly to the 2010 season of the Claxton Shield. With the expansion from five to six teams, each team played every week as opposed to the two bye weeks the teams had previously. In addition, rather than a three-game series each week, the series were four games each, resulting in each team playing 40 games over the season. As had been the case in 2010, the majority of games were played on Fridays and Saturdays, though some games were also played on Thursdays and Sundays, depending on the team hosting and whether or not a doubleheader was included in the series.
The 2011–12 season largely followed the same format as the 2010–11 season, with only minor changes. Though the opening game of the season was scheduled again be the only game played that day, the whole series was played over the same weekend along with the first series for each of the other four teams. To allow for the Perth Heat's participation in the Asia Series, each of the teams had a bye weekend during the first half of the season. The season expanded from 40 to 45 games per team; one of the two series played against each opponent expanded from 4 to 5 games.
The 2012–13 season also had minor modifications from the previous season. Each team's bye weekends were in the first three rounds of competition, and each series held during these weekends were only 3 games long, and were billed as "... against their two closest geographical neighbours; building upon both traditional and newly established rivalries." The match-ups for these games echoed the divisions used in the 2008 Claxton Shield, where teams based in Brisbane, Canberra and Sydney were in the Eastern Division, and teams from Adelaide, Melbourne and Perth were in the Southern Division. The remaining 10 weeks were made up of 4 game series, like the 2010–11 season. By the end of the season, each team had played each other team at least eight times, with an additional three against both of their geographic rivals.
In the league's second season, it was announced that an All-Star Game would take place, to be held in Perth on 21 December 2011. Like the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, it would be held midway through the regular season, and would feature the best players in the league. Rather than the teams in the All-Star Game being made up of players from certain teams, the game would be contested by Team Australia and a team of World All-Stars, selected from the import or international players participating in the ABL at the time.
For the first two ABL seasons, the postseason involved the top four teams in a three-round structure following the Page playoff system. In the inaugural season, each round consisted of a best–of–three game series between the respective teams, however this was changed in 2011–12 such that the first two rounds were decided in a best–of–five series, with the championship series remaining best–of–three. The first- and second-placed teams played each other in the major semi-final series, with the winner proceeding directly to the championship series and the loser to the preliminary final series. The winner of the minor semi-final series between the third- and fourth-placed teams also went to the preliminary final series, while the loser was eliminated. Likewise, the winner of the preliminary final series qualified for the championship series, the loser eliminated.
The third season used a shortened format from the two previous seasons. Only the top three teams qualified for a two-round postseason, with each round consisting of a best–of–three game series. The first-placed team directly qualified for the championship series, and the second- and third-placed teams played each other in the preliminary final series, the winner of which qualified for the second place in the championship series.
The winner of the championship series is named the ABL Champion for that season, and is awarded the Claxton Shield; the prize given to the top Australian baseball team since 1934.
Announced after the inaugural ABL season had been completed, the league's champions each season will be invited to the restarted Asia Series. The event had previously been contested between the winners of Nippon Professional Baseball's (NPB) Japan Series, Korea Professional Baseball's (KPB) Korean Series, Chinese Professional Baseball League's (CPBL) Taiwan Series, and China Baseball League's (CBL) championship series. The 2011 tournament will not feature the CBL's champions, but officials have stated that a team would participate in future editions. Unlike all four previous editions of the tournament which were held in Japan, the 2011 edition will be held in Taiwan. The tournament follows a round-robin format, where each team plays each other once. The top two teams then face each other in a single game to decide the champion.
The Asia Series is held in November, which would otherwise create a conflict for the ABL champion team as the following season would have already commenced. To avoid this, the League announced that during the 2011–12 season, the Perth Heat—2010–11 champions—would be scheduled to have a bye while competing in Taiwan.
For the inaugural season, there had been no television coverage of regular season games, either live, delayed or in a regular highlights package review format, despite having been in negotiations with Fox Sports and Network Ten. After completing negotiations for live television coverage of the finals, the championship series was broadcast live on Fox Sports.
On 1 November 2010, Sydney community radio station Triple H FM announced it would provide live broadcasts of Sydney Blue Sox home matches as well as Canberra Cavalry's home series against the Blue Sox, Melbourne Aces and Perth Heat—the weeks Sydney was away from home. Perth Now's radio station SportFM announced it would cover the Perth Heat spring training games as well as the opening game of every Heat home series.
The Adelaide Bite, Brisbane Bandits and Perth Heat provided free audio and video streaming through internet website Ustream.
For the second season, Fox Sports expanded its television coverage of the ABL to include the All-Star Game in addition to the championship series. The game was also carried live via ESPN Star Sports in China, India and Taiwan. It was shown on delay in the United States on the MLB Network, as well as also being shown on delay in Japan and South Korea. The international television coverage of the championship series expanded from that of the All-Star Game, with Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Philippines also getting live coverage through ESPN Star Sports, with several additional countries in Asia and Oceania including New Zealand getting delayed television coverage. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) introduced live radio coverage of the championship series via the digital ABC Radio Grandstand station. In recent years, ABL coverage of its All-Star Game and championship series has expanded to Canada through SportsNet Ontario (effectively simulcasting MLB Network in the United States).
For the 2015—16 season, one Sunday match for each of the last five regular season rounds was shown live nationally on ESPN. This marked the first time in the franchise's history that regular season matches had been shown on television. In addition, all five were also aired live in Asia via Fox Sports Asia, while three of the matches were shown live in the U.S on the MLB Network.
ESPN has broadcast live the 2013–14, 2014–15, and 2015–16 Championship series'. In addition, the 2014–15 and 2015–16 series' were broadcast in the United States on MLB Network and online on MLB.com, and in Asia on Fox Sports Asia.
Though the locations for the six teams had been known for some time previously, it was not until 5 August 2010 that the names of the teams were announced. Websites were also launched on the same day for each of the teams with the exception of the Perth Heat, which had been the name of the Western Australian team playing in the Claxton Shield since 2006, as well as being one of the franchises from the original ABL, contesting all ten seasons. The Brisbane Bandits is also a reintroduction of a team name from the original ABL that participated in all but the final season.
The Adelaide Bite uses a name that the South Australia state baseball team has previously used at various times in the Claxton Shield, which in turn refers both to the great white shark common to South Australian waters as well as the geographic feature, the Great Australian Bight. Likewise, the Melbourne Aces uses the Victoria state baseball team's moniker from Claxton Shield competitions past. The Canberra Cavalry and the Sydney Blue Sox both use names not previously used in Australian baseball at the national level.
Prior to the 2016–17 ABL season, the Adelaide Bite's home ground, Norwood Oval (known as Coopers Stadium due to sponsorship) was the only ABL venue not built specifically for baseball use. Norwood Oval is the long time home of Australian rules football team the Norwood Redlegs who play in Adelaide major local competition the South Australian National Football League (SANFL). The oval however, due to having lights installed, has generally been the main venue for baseball in Adelaide since 1951. Although the oval has a normal spectator capacity of 22,000 for football, due to the configuration of the baseball diamond spectators are not permitted beyond the outfield fence and capacity is generally restricted to around 10-15,000 for ABL games still making it easily the largest capacity venue in the league. For the 2016–17 season the Adelaide Bite moved from Norwood Oval to the purpose built Diamond Sports Stadium.
Expansion teams to represent the Gold Coast, the Central Coast, and Geelong are being considered for future seasons, as well as the possibility of second teams from Melbourne and Sydney. There is further potential for teams to be based overseas, with New Zealand and Japan having been publicly discussed. Another alternative for expansion teams being considered is the possibility of an all-Japanese or all-Asian team added to the league, with the team being based in Australia rather than requiring international flights for the team's members and their opponents.