Because of the agreement between major and minor baseball leagues that it anticipates will force dramatic changes in the minor leagues in three or four years, the ownership of the Salt Lake Trappers has decided to concentrate on the sport it knows best and has put the Salt Lake Sting professional soccer franchise up for sale to local buyers.
"We have to be prepared to pay more attention to the baseball team," said Trapper principal owner Jack Donovan Thursday prior to a news conference that was called to make the announcements.In Donovan's opinion, the baseball agreement that was 21/2 months in the negotiating stage and is about to be signed will make few changes in the minors for the coming couple of seasons, but the agreement is up for individual revision in four years, and that's when Donovan anticipates a huge shakeup in the way baseball is organized.
Donovan says major league clubs seem to want to move to a system that would put all the minor-league talent for a team in one complex, as in spring training now, and eliminate most of the minor league working agreements.
Donovan said the major league clubs might decide to expand the Triple-A level system - he's been told Salt Lake City and the Trapper group would be a prime candidate for a franchise in that case - and put the rest of their minor leaguers into a complex system.
His other speculation is that, if the minor leagues as they're now conducted are disbanded in favor of a complex system, many of the more successful minor cities would form a third major league, a maverick operation, and the Trapper ownership would be mightily interested in that as well.
"The major league people have put a gun to the minor leagues' heads," Donovan says. "After the agreement is signed, whatever strengths (the minor-league teams) have will be gone."
For the next year or two, Donovan doesn't expect much change for the Trappers or the Pioneer League, and the new agreement between the major and minor leagues wouldn't have much initial effect on the Trappers since they are an all-independent organization that doesn't get players from big league teams on a working-agreement basis. He said, however, that there may be an age restriction placed on the minor leagues some time in the future, and that wouldn't apply to the Trappers, who could benefit since they might be able to use college graduates while other teams were forced to go with 21-year-olds.
The sale of the Sting, a team Trapper management started with great success last summer, is admittedly risky, says Donovan, because of the growth coming in the American Professional Soccer League that is mandated by the international agreement that will bring the World Cup to the United States.
"We may be saddling the wrong horse," says Donovan.
Donovan said the Sting must be sold, preferably to Salt Lake City interests, or the franchise will be given back to the league, which could reassign or temporarily deactivate it. "We wouldn't operate it" in '91 Donovan says of his ownership group.
The reasons, he says, for sticking with the Trappers are that the owners are long-time baseball people with more expertise in managing that sport than soccer, that "we have some heavy hitters" among the baseball ownership group that are not involved in the Sting and that the soccer growth could hinge upon local ownership. Most of the 17-person Trapper management group resides out of Utah.
Among the Trapper owners are Marv Goldklang of New York City, who is also part-owner of the New York Yankees, and actor Bill Murray. Those two are not involved in Sting ownership but would be highly interested in securing a Triple-A or maverick big league franchise for Salt Lake City. Goldklang was part of the negotiating team in the recent major-minor talks in New York City.
Donovan would not discuss a purchase price for the Sting, although he said it would be hefty.
The current Sting ownership has had talks with some local groups already and hopes to accomplish a sale soon so that transitions can go smoothly. The APSL is expected to expand its schedule for 1991, and Donovan said the league is negotiating with the U.S. federation to have the national team that will be readying itself for World Cup competition play each team in the league as part of its preparation. The league may also begin competition between its East- and West-coast members in 1991.
Donovan said the future of the Sting is strong - if it's sold now - because of events that will lead up to the World Cup. Part of the agreement for the U.S. getting the World Cup hinged upon formation of a national professional league that would be governed by the U.S. Soccer Federation and run in the manner of other national professional leagues, such as those in Germany or Italy. It's already been established that the existing franchises in current pro leagues would have first crack at national-league berths.
Salt Lake City's soccer team set an APSL record for attendance in its first season, drawing an average of 5,400 fans to its 10 home games. The Trappers, who have existed since 1985, set their third national short-season attendance record, pulling in 192,366 during the regular season for 35 games. They set a Derks Field record of 12,870 on Aug. 30.