In November 2017, it was announced that the Mobile BayBears had been sold to BallCorps LLC. Upon completion of the sale, the CEO of BallCorps stated, “We are thrilled to start a new chapter with this team today. The BayBears have had a great relationship with the City of Mobile and its fans for over 20 years. We want to build on that history and make this team as successful as possible. We are excited about what is next. The Southern League and Minor League Baseball have granted us exploration rights to investigate north Alabama, which is an exciting market, but the organization is still considering all options at this point, including the team remaining in Mobile.” In February of this year, it was confirmed that the BayBears would be moving to Madison, Alabama, which is right next door to Huntsville, Alabama, former home of the Huntsville Stars. When it was confirmed that the team would remain in Mobile through the 2019 season, I knew I had to visit before it was too late.
According to MiLB.com, in 2017 the BayBears averaged only 1,498 spectators per game, the lowest in the Southern League, and well behind the league leader in attendance, the Birmingham Barons who drew 5,935 fans that year. The league average was 4,835. Five years earlier, the BayBears drew the third lowest attendance at 2,112 people per game, with Jackson and Huntsville behind them with 2,052 and 1,973 average attendance, respectively. In 2007, Mobile was drawing 1,000 more fans per game than Huntsville with 3,466 average attendance, yet still had the third lowest attendance in the league.
Just last year I was lamenting the fact that Huntsville lost its minor league team after the 2014 season when the team moved to Biloxi, Mississippi. So why the move back? According to Ballpark Digest, the City of Madison is constructing a multi-use venue and ballpark. The site will include a hotel overlooking center field. A feasibility study conducted by the city estimates attendance of 4,700 people per game and net income of $2 million in the first year.
I’ll be keeping an eye on this over the next several years. Several questions still remain including, what will become of Hank Aaron’s childhood home, which is currently on the grounds of the BayBear’s Hank Aaron Stadium, and will the new team be called the Trash Pandas?