TMR Q&A: American Association Commissioner Josh Schaub on league’s continued growth

We are at the time of year where baseball warms the hearts, the minds and the pocketbooks of millions across North America with daily reports from Spring Training. Nothing brings hope and anticipation for a sports fan like the phrase “pitchers and catchers report today” — especially while the snow is falling and bone-chilling winds are howling on much of the continent.

And while some may say MLB is outpricing consumers, the value add on the lower levels of professional baseball still rings true. MLB’s revamping and streamlining of business operations a few years ago was met with some consternation, but it has opened the doors for real across-the-board success, including creating entrepreneurial opportunities in markets where there are no MLB-affiliated teams.

A signature platform for success is literally smack dab in the middle of the U.S., where the revamped American Association resides. The AA, which took root under what used to be known as “Independent Baseball,” now has ties to MLB, has been around for a very long time, but it seems to have found its niche not only with family fun on summer nights, but in player development, value for brands looking to engage in key markets, and entrepreneurial leadership.

At the helm is Commissioner Josh Schaub, who succeeded the league’s founder, Miles Wolff, at the conclusion of the 2018 season. An attorney, Schaub’s extensive baseball experience includes being CEO and co-owner of the Frontier League‘s Joliet Slammers; a board member of the Frontier League and Prospect League; an intern and associate scout with the Milwaukee Brewers; and a legal clerk for the Northern League. Schaub has served as a consultant and legal counsel to numerous professional baseball teams for both business, legal, and baseball matters. He also formerly served as the Commissioner and General Counsel of the Major Arena Soccer League.


Previously, he led Minneapolis-based Gutwein Law‘s Sports and Entertainment Law practice representing numerous professional and amateur leagues as outside general counsel. Today, he is an adjunct law school professor at the University of Wisconsin Law School teaching Sports Law and regularly lectures for “Baseball and the Law” at Mitchell Hamline School of Law. He is also currently a mentor for TechStars Sports Tech accelerator.

For our latest TMR Q&A, as his league’s version of spring training gets ready to roll, we asked Schaub to share his insights on how there’s nothing minor about the business success of the American Association.

Below is our interview, edited for length and clarity.

Team Marketing Report: Minor League Baseball has undergone a dramatic change in the past two years. What Is the value proposition the American Association, as an unaffiliated but well established property, that is offered to brands?

Josh Schaub: The American Association offers the same product as affiliated baseball in terms of off field entertainment, but with a bonus on the baseball side. The bonus is that the American Association plays to win instead of solely focusing on developing players and thus the baseball product itself is much more exciting and akin to the MLB product.

Further, due to being an MLB Partner League, we offer the same fan promotions and in-game entertainment as MiLB teams. Those include Marvel Night, COPA, in between inning entertainment, and other theme nights.

TMR: The AA has seen some historic business growth in the past few years, how has that been fueled and what do the numbers look like?

JS:  The American Association is an emerging league and it’s due to our innovations not just around baseball, but also driving major traffic for non-baseball events.

The pandemic was really a whipsaw for the American Association for two reasons.

Impact Field, home of the Chicago Dogs in Rosemont, Ill., just outside Chicago city limits, proved an excellent venue for 2023’s Sparkle Light Festival

First, we played through the pandemic in a traditional circuit. That kept our brand alive and growing with a new audience seeking some form of live entertainment.

Second, we have done a good job of wiring unwired properties in terms of cross-pollinating best practices. Those include Christmas lights shows and multi-day music and lifestyle festivals, really turning our stadiums into cultural platforms instead of just baseball-centric venues. That has driven our total revenues to just under $60 million in aggregate with non-baseball revenue up 47 percent in the last year.

For example, the very successful Tacos and Tequila Festival heads into its fourth year at the Kansas City Monarchs‘ Legends Field in Kansas City and is sold out with 12,000 attendees, while another four AA ballparks — Kane County, Milwaukee, Sioux Falls and Winnipeg — will host their own versions this season. Other non-baseball activations include MMA events or Phase Fest, which will happen at multiple venues this summer as well.

This has culminated in the AA becoming a hub for the communities that we live, work and play in, which has brought us closer to the community and we are being seen as an entertainment property.

While other leagues have stayed behind third party paywalls, we have kept our own data, exposed our brand for free to a larger audience, and controlled our product while being even more profitable than we ever targeted.


TMR: As you just noted, you are in some very big markets, like Kansas City or Chicago, and in some considerably smaller ones as well. How does that balance favor business success?

JS:  It proves the American Association business model can thrive both in the shadow of MLB markets and in more isolated areas.

We can find fits for brands and get them exposure in both large and small markets, particularly within the Midwest. Our largest markets offer affordable family entertainment, and our smaller markets represents the sole source of professional baseball entertainment within that community, driving fandom, viewership and authenticity.

We currently own the Midwest corridor and are growing further east and west through our expansion, where you will see further investment into large markets and top DMA’s, which will drive value and exposure for our partners.

TMR: Everyone craves eyeballs. What does the AA broadcast and media footprint look like and what sets it apart from other properties?

JS:  In 2019 we set out to own and operate our broadcast platform in a profitable business venture. We accomplished that in 2020 introducing and driving profits well into the six figures.

Since then, we have continued to elevate our broadcast standards and have now started placing games under an omnichannel strategy with games on OTA nationwide, multiple OTT platforms, locally in team markets, and through partners such as Meta.

While other leagues have stayed behind third party paywalls, we have kept our own data, exposed our brand for free to a larger audience, and controlled our product while being even more profitable than we ever targeted.

TMR: Lastly, the AA is part of a new global relationship in baseball on the team level that is growing. What is that like, and what are the next steps there for brands and partners?

JS:  The American Association helped found the newly created “Baseball Champions League” event, governed by the World Baseball Softball Confederation — the same governing body of the World Baseball Classic. The WBSC represents the world’s greatest stage of baseball, bringing further credibility to the American Association’s stature within the international landscape.

This newly created event is akin to Champions League soccer, bringing together the champions of each country’s major league to crown an international club champion.

The value to our partners will come through the global distribution of the event which reached over 1.5 million viewers last year — including broadcast on ESPN Mexico and other international platforms — affording global visibility through this crown jewel event each season.

In its inaugural format, the American Association’s Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks — 2022 AA champions — were crowned the BCL champion beating its international peers from Mexico, Columbia and Cuba.

As the event continues to evolve and bring in more countries for participation, the American Association will retain exclusive rights to drive exposure, experiences and value for its partners.



To view past TMR Q&As, click here.

All photos courtesy of American Association