After a decade of steady growth and expansion, it should surprise no one that Northwoods League President Dick Radatz Jr. is pondering adding two more teams as early as 2015.
The Northwoods, a for-profit summer league for collegiate players, is one of the nation’s best baseball success stories. Radatz was one of the founding members when the Northwoods started in 1994 with five franchises — Kenosha, Manitowoc and Wausau, Wis., Dubuque, Iowa, and Rochester, Minn. — for which ownership paid $125,000 for a team.
The Northwoods this season has 18 teams, including St. Cloud, Willmar, Duluth, Mankato, Rochester and Alexandria in Minnesota. New franchises now cost $1 million. Average attendance is 1,659, and Radatz thinks the league for the first time has a good chance to draw 1 million fans, partly because of the addition of two teams this summer, in Kalamazoo, Mich., and the return to Kenosha, with both ranking in the top four in attendance.
What’s more, the league set a record in June when 176 current and former players were selected in the major league amateur draft, including six in the first 39 picks.
Radatz thinks the future is ripe for more growth. Bismarck, N.D., is the leading candidate, and Fond du Lac, Wis., and Ann Arbor, Mich., are being considered.
Radatz had hoped to break into the Twin Cities with teams in Anoka and/or Shakopee, but he said, “some things take more time than others. Nothing’s really hot.” But within a decade, he said, it wouldn’t be surprising “to see 24 teams, possibly with some expansion into the metro areas of Chicago, Detroit, Minneapolis, Milwaukee.”
A big key to making money in the league is the unpaid labor pool of players. Radatz said the subject of what might happen if the NCAA starts paying amateurs “has come up in board meetings … but it’s not at the forefront of my mind.”
The chance to play 72 summer games in front of dozens of major league scouts, he said, “is a mutually beneficial arrangement” for players and league owners.