Hockey ahead?

Robin
Robin Short
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Local group looks to bring ECHL team to Mile One

East Coast Hockey League

The Mile One Centre online calendar is looking pretty bare these days, but that could change next fall if the 10-year-old rink secures an anchor tenant not seen since the St. John’s Fog Devils junior hockey team was peddled to Montreal interests three years ago.

A group that includes St. John’s businessmen Tony Kenny and John Fisher, along with Mount Pearl lawyer Bill Kennedy, is still trying to land another Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) team for the city.

The trio was in the running, along with St. John’s Sports and Entertainment (SJSE) and St. John’s businessman Derm Dobbin, for one of two QMJHL expansion franchises up for grabs in 2005. The team was eventually awarded to Dobbin.

SJSE, the board which runs Mile One, would like to have another crack at the American Hockey League (AHL), and came close last season when the New York Islanders expressed interest in the former home of the AHL’s Maple Leafs, a team that toiled in St. John’s 14 seasons.

Those talks quickly went south when the Islanders apparently wanted St. John’s to pay a $200,000 or $250,000 penalty — over the course of a number of years — the NHL team would have incurred for breaking an existing lease in Bridgeport, Conn. That’s where New York’s top minor league affiliate is currently housed.

Now, in addition to those two leagues, comes word of yet another potential hockey opportunity — the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL), which is a rung below the AHL on the minor pro hockey ladder. A group in St. John’s is so serious about an ECHL opportunity that they’re heading to Bakersfield, Calif., for the league’s All-Star Classic and board of governors meetings later this month. A source says the group has the finances in place to have a club up and running at Mile One for the fall of 2011.

The league is currently a 19-team operation, featuring an Eastern and Western Conference. There are three divisions within the East, and two in the West.

Four teams comprise each division, but one, that being the Atlantic Division in the Eastern Conference, has only three. It’s in the Atlantic St. John’s — or Newfoundland, depending on which geographical name ownership prefers — would play, joining the Reading, Pa. Royals, Elmira, N.Y. Jackals and Trenton, N.J. Devils.

If the St. John’s bid is accepted by the league’s board of governors, the St. John’s group would be purchasing a new franchise. ECHL teams generally sell for about $500,000 U.S.

Of course, a number of criteria must be met before a team hits the ice next fall, not the least of which is a refundable deposit on 1,500 season tickets, and an arena lease agreement in place.

While it’s still too early to start pushing tickets, the group has been speaking with Mile One management.

The biggest obstacle facing the group might be selling the ECHL (once known as the East Coast Hockey League, the league is now officially called the ECHL). Dubbing itself North America’s premier AA hockey league, the ECHL is AA ball to the AHL’s AAA ball, with the NHL being the Major Leagues, if we could use a baseball model.

The league has a weekly payroll cap of about $500-$600.

Those numbers, coupled with the franchise fee, could make for a sub-$20 ticket for fans, the source said.

If educating the public to a league that’s a relative unknown in these parts figures to be a hurdle, so, too, is the travel factor.

All franchises but one — the Victoria Salmon Kings — are located in the United States, as far south as Naples, Fla., and as far west as Anchorage, Alaska. However, like baseball’s American and National leagues, teams in the East and West play only within their conference during the regular season.

So unless St. John’s meets Las Vegas in the league final, Sin City won’t be on the Newfoundland travel itinerary.

So the Newfoundland team, according to the source, would travel by air to Newark, N.J. or Toronto and bus to Trenton, Elmira, Cincinnat, Ohio, Kalamazoo, Mich., and other ECHL cities.

“This is a viable proposition,” said the source. “And the hockey is pretty darn good. Everything adds up.”

 

Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor. He can be reached by email rshort@thetelegram.com

 

See, Some facts page 2

Organizations: East Coast Hockey League, American Hockey League, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League New York Islanders NHL Maple Leafs

Geographic location: Montreal, Mount Pearl, Newfoundland Anchorage, Alaska Bridgeport, Conn. New York Bakersfield, Calif. Atlantic St. John Reading, Pa. North America United States Naples, Fla. Las Vegas Sin Newark, N.J. Toronto Trenton Ohio Kalamazoo, Mich.

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Recent comments

  • Brad
    March 26, 2011 - 13:29

    I live in Alaska and the ECHL is alive and well in a remote market. The quality of hockey is great and we feature a young team of players just out of Canadian Juniors, Canadian and US Colleges, and a former NHLer who plays for the love of the game. Tickets are $15 -$25 before promotions and we average over 4,300 fans in a city of 285,000 people in a 30-year old municipal rink with few amenities. Key is quality ownership, corporate sponsors, decent ticket prices and a good product which we all have. Players love it here and seek out being a part of the organization. St. John's and the ECHL are potentially a great match - see you in the Kelly Cup finals...say 2011-2012! Best of luck and drop the puck!

  • pete
    January 30, 2011 - 21:19

    Property Management St John's

  • Steve-O
    January 21, 2011 - 22:22

    For the people who are hating on the ECHL check out some of these highlights on Toledo's website at the end of the game wrap up this is not the ECHL of 15 years ago also check out the support. http://www.toledowalleye.com/news.asp?id=445

  • HockeyFan
    January 15, 2011 - 10:01

    Dan the Fog Devils had loads of NLers on the team so why didn't fans get out and support them, and the tickets for those games were pretty reasonalby priced at $10-$12 a ticket? As for the players in Europe who is going to want to come home here to play for $600.00 a game when they can get way more than that playing inEuroper plus the fact that some of them also get a free house to live in while they are over there too? 79 players from the ECHL playing in the NHL this year? That's bascially just a ittle over 10 percent of the total players in the NHL. 80 percent of the players last year came from the AHL and there are 133 CHLers ranked in this years NHL Draft most of who will never spend tim in the ECHL.

    • Dan
      January 15, 2011 - 12:45

      Hockeyfan your facts are correct. It is what it is. Obviously the Q product did not resonate with the fans. The ECHL is a much different product and in many ways more exciting. I suggest the guys in Europe or other leagues might want to come home for university, college or for one last kick at the cat. Playing pro hockey and going to school is not incompatible with todays technology. As for housing, teams in the ECHL must provide that as part of the Players Collective Bargaining Agreement so that point is moot. You sound like a true hockey fan. I don't understand your negativity. We really need to educate ourselves as to the attributes of this league before dishing it and there are many positive attributes. Go online and check out the stats on the ECHL website. Average attendance is over 4,500 per game and in many non traditional hockey centres. All I want to see is an open minded debate but at the end of the day I want to see a competitive exciting hockey team. AHL is probably not in the cards. ECHL looks like an interesting proposition and the best option.

  • Dan
    January 14, 2011 - 17:00

    We all need to step back and be objective. The next team that comes here from whatever league better work. Three strikes and your out. It will be a lot longer wait for any league to look at St. John's if the next team fails. Each league has it's attributes. The question is what is the most viable, practical hockey entertainment we can afford and enjoy. The answer is the ECHL. This is a credible league and the on ice product is exciting and fun. The cost is reasonable. We will definitely have a sprinkle of Newfoundlanders. There will be a certain amount of guys playing in Europe, the AHL, ECHL, coming out of college, coming out of junior or playing in our Senior Hockey League that will want to come home and play a few years either following their hockey dreams or as a the next practical step in their lives. There will be 10-12 players with NHL contracts, again, following perhaps the last chance for their dream of making to the bigs. And the reality is many do move on. Many do make the NHL. The product is fun, the price is right, the opportunity is now. ECHL is the right call for St. John's. Let's support this initiative.

    • JAMMERS
      January 21, 2011 - 10:06

      Dan I agree with most of your comments. I do take exception to the insinuation that the St. John's Maple Leafs "failed." They did not fail, they were a success story and a very well run franchise. Toronto decided to move the team for their own reasons. I do agree with your insight into the ECHL. I thing NFLD-ers will embrace it, and it will be great entertainment for the money spent. I for one would support it 100% and would buy 2 season tickets right now if I could. If the Q came back I would not, and I had them for 2 years. J5

  • HockeyFan
    January 14, 2011 - 09:22

    Sam Mile One was built where it was for the same reason that many other arenas are built in the downtown core in most major cities. It's an economic spinoff for the bars and restaurants down there. Both the Leafs and Fog Devild provided a Park and Ride to the games so parking is not an excuse for not going to the games as the bus dropped people off right at the door. Fans who go to game at the Air Canada or the Bell Centre have to do it so why can't the fans here?

  • Brad
    January 14, 2011 - 05:59

    The average weekly salary in the ECHL is $350-600 a week, the team salary cap is around $10,000 a week for 20 players.

    • Joe
      January 14, 2011 - 13:56

      Just to clarify the salaries in the ECHL: What is the salary cap in the ECHL? The weekly salary cap for 2010-11 is $12,000 and the weekly salary floor is $8,500. What is the minimum salary for an ECHL player? Teams are required in 2010-11 to pay rookie players a minimum salary of $370 per week and returning players a minimum salary of $410 per week. A returning player is classified as a player who appeared on a team’s season-ending or playoff roster or who has played in 25 or more professional hockey games. What is the NHL/AHL affiliate payment? The NHL/AHL affiliate payment for 2010-11 is $525 per week. Any affiliate amount other than $525 per week agreed upon with any NHL/AHL club will be considered a salary cap violation. This includes excess payments for equipment, travel, etc.

  • Sam
    January 13, 2011 - 19:19

    A small number of people in St. John's will pay the ticket price for an AHL team. A much smaller number will pay to watch ECHL or a Q team. How soon you forget the Fog Devils fiasco. Biggest problem you seem to have beside a tiny number of real hockey fans is the location of Mile One. Why it was built where it sits is beyond most sane people. The amount of money that is required from anyone interested in putting a team there is ludacrist.

  • Little Pedro
    January 13, 2011 - 06:37

    It was great to read that our city is considering an ECHL franchise. We have tried the AHL and Q leagues with some success but the ECHL seems to make more sense on so many different levels. Affordability comes to mind first. I think its great that we would have the opportunity to watch professional hockey for about the same price as popcorn and a movie. Also it would open the door for a few of our Newfoundland hockey players. Didn't a young fellow Roach just finish a 2 year stint in the league and now he is playing for the Cee Bees? Thats a perfect example of blending our product with the ECHL....I am all for it and will support a team......but please don't call them the Fog Devils.

  • Jim
    January 12, 2011 - 19:20

    For people to start dumping on the ECHL before doing their homework is a real shame. If you do not know what you are talking about keep your mouth shut. What you people are saying is players like Derek Clancey, Justin Pender, Sammy Roberts, the Ryders, Pardy, Slaney, Sweetland and future players from Newfoundland who are not first and second rounders, is that they should not waste their time at this level. They can't play is what you are saying! I would love to see you people to say that to their face. I know! you wouldn't have the balls. Most of these kids have plied their trade in Major Junior, the CIS, and the NCAA. Many of them have degrees and are highly inteligent young men who still want to play and still think they have a shot. Who are you to judge them? What is wrong with keeping the dream alive? Have you naysayers seen a CIS hockey game or an NCAA game in the last decade? They make Major Junior hockey look like midget hockey. Why? Because they are 20 - 24 years old versus 16-19 in major junior. The ECHL is now mostly a league of young men who have opted for a balance bewteen education and hockey because they are not "Gems" like Crosby or Ovechkin. Does that mean they can't play? I do not think so!

    • Steve
      January 13, 2011 - 18:27

      Hats off to the people behind this ECHL Project. I hope you can get it off the ground. Once the people of Newfoundland are properly educated they will see this is a good thing. I agee, please don't call them the Fog Devils or the Maple Leafs for that matter. Get someone who knows what they are doing when recruiting players and if at all possible not the crowd of so called coaches here in Newfoundland. The politics here in Newfoundland when it come to hockey is criminal. I have seen too many kids get screwed over here,(two playes who are now away playing come to mind as I write this) but once they leave the island things look up for them. Hope you can make this happen. Good Luck

  • Steve-O
    January 12, 2011 - 18:31

    Not a Leafs fan but if they should try and get this team affliated with them who knows they may let us have some rights to some of their players as a thank you for 14 years, or get them affliated with the Habs and Sens on a duel affliation them they may actually have a shot at making this work. I'll support them either way, thats what true fans actually do, support them, I supported the Leafs and Devils when they were here, now I support the Senior League

  • shawn
    January 12, 2011 - 16:05

    All Leafs fans,the new hero of the leafs James Reimer won an ECHL title a couple years ago. Jonathan Quick ,goalie for the Kings started there. The ECHL has promoted 267 players to the NHL since 2002-2003 season,thats impressive. How many players from Franks street hockey league have made it.

  • Marc
    January 12, 2011 - 15:47

    St. John's wants and needs a hockey team! Which option is the best? The Q, the ECHL, or the AHL. From the sex appeal perspective the AHL would probably be the majority's choice. But sex appeal will not pay the bills. An AHL franchise must cost around $5 Million if a Q team is $3 Million. How does any prospective owner make this work when the population wants a ticket price under $20? Just do the math. Let's assume a franchise costs $3 million and the owner is putting 1 million down. The remaining 2 million must be paid within 60 months. The owners want their franchoise fee because it goes straight in their pockt. $2 million financed over 60 months will run around $40,000 per month with interest. Add in player salaries, administrative salaries, travel for both teams paid for by the St. John's team, and you are quickly up to monthly operating costs above $200,000. This has to be paid by the paying public and corporate partners. Anyone who thinks about this has to understand the money has to come from somewhere. If you are not looking at the money then you are just looking at sex appeal and sex appeal will not ensure the franchise and Mile One's viability.

  • Marty
    January 12, 2011 - 15:10

    Hold off for the AHL. The ECHL will fail in this city. Nobody, including myself, want to watch that quality of hockey. AHL or bust.

    • Kitty
      January 13, 2011 - 06:10

      If this city can't even support the ECHL it is pretty likely that there is no way any AHL team will consider coming back here- why would they want to take a risk in a city with a track record of failing hockey franchises? For all that people want a higher caliber of sports team they are failing to comprehend in a situation like this we should be happy to take what we can get because leagues are not exactly lining up for a chance to play here. Until we can prove that we support a 'lower' caliber hockey team nobody should be getting their hopes up for an AHL team in the first place.

  • john
    January 12, 2011 - 14:13

    Ever since the IHL folded, the ECHL and the Central Hockey League have moved up in terms of hockey quality. The ECHL covers the east coast of the U.S. and the west coast of the U.S. The Central Hockey League covers the middle of the U.S. Both leagues are on par with each other and NHL teams affiliate with both leagues. The first CDN entry to the ECHL was last year with Victoria. Thunder Bay and St. John's are two other potential CDN candidates. Witht he IHL gone, many very good players have found themselves in the CHL or the ECHL. The goal of the year and probably the decade was on TSN earlier this year. This goal was scored in the ECHL and is amazing for its skill and the number of players involved. Go to youtube.com or crashthecrease.com to check it out. This may have been a goon league once upon a time but not today.

  • Telling it like it is
    January 12, 2011 - 14:09

    Before moving to Edmonton, I would have agreed and in fact I still agree, that ticket prices should be fair. But since there appear to be some that consider that $30 is the maximum are willing to share out, let me share what the current going rate is for a lower bowl seat at Rexall Place, - You're going to pay at least $180 for a lower bowl seat and FYI, that's for 1 person. - Beer is $7.25, EACH. - Food...you're looking at $6 for just the hamburger...forget the fries and associate drink. - And since so many Newfoundlanders insist on taking their cars everywhere and would probably insist on taking their cars to Rexall place even though there is limited parking, be prepared to shell out $25. All in all, just for one person to get a good view of the game (without the need of binoculars), and wants a beer or two and maybe a snack, be prepared to pay close to $300. Quit whining about $30 ticket prices and pay it already. You get what you pay for and at $30 you'll be seeing players who were drafted by NHL clubs and for whatever reason didn't make it. You're not watching a bunch of washed up all-star players, some of whom never even got drafted into the Junior A ranks of the mainland and have lived and played their entire lives in Newfoundland.

  • HockeyFan
    January 12, 2011 - 13:34

    JimboBayman Clowe and PUrcell have both spent time in the AHL.

    • JimBobBayMan
      January 12, 2011 - 14:17

      Did I say anything about the AHL? Don't believe I did, let me check, nope never.

  • gord
    January 12, 2011 - 13:09

    Hockeyfan Of course you would rather pay $30 to see the AHL but how about $50? Maybe you can afford it but the popuiatiuon at large will not pay that and the corporate sponsors will not accept a 50% increase to their costs. And if the population won't pay this price, then your ability to pay really does not help. The building needs 3500 fans minimum to make anything work and no one sees St. John's citizens paying that much. This has to make sense economically first and foremost.

  • JimBobBayMan
    January 12, 2011 - 12:51

    Hockeyfan, so what you are saying is Cleary is the only Newfoundlander that deserves to be in the show???? Ryder went in the 8th round, Pardy the 6th, Clowe the 6th, and Purcell never got drafted. All but Clowe has spent time in the minors either ECHL or IHL.

  • steve
    January 12, 2011 - 12:43

    Wow, sadly enough if an ECHL team came here, with a weekly salary max of 600, they'd probably jump ship to play for more money in Newfoundland Senior Hockey.

  • HockeyFan
    January 12, 2011 - 12:37

    Gord I'd rather pay $30.00 a ticket to go and see the AHL or the Q rather than the ECHL. Jason as for third-seventh round draft picks going to the ECHL then maybe they shouldn't even be in the NHL in the first place and wouldn't be there if it wasn't for a 30 team watered down league. Most of the NHL's Elite players either go right from the CHL to the NHL or have a year down in the AHL first. You don't see very many of them coming from the ECHL.

  • Shawn Faulkner
    January 12, 2011 - 11:41

    The Echl is better quality hockey than senior . 30 players who started in the ECHL in 2009 are now playing in the NHL. How many senior hockey players on 2009 NL rosters are now in the NHL? - ZERO . I love senior hockey but please talk sense.

  • gord
    January 12, 2011 - 11:22

    As much as St. John's may want an AHL team it does not make economic sense. The franchise fee is very high and needs to be paid upfront thus requiring a high ticket price or governement subsidy and or an NHL partner willing to lose money. No one is willing to lose money forever, not even the Red Cross, so give your head a shake if you are one of these dreamers.. Furthermore, the building is too small for the AHL and is small even for the ECHL. Mile One would be in the bottom five percent of capacity for arenas in the ECHL. At the end of the day, whoever comes to St John's must have a viable business plan that makes sense for all stakeholders and that includes the general public, the Corporate Partners, the owners, the league, SJS&E, and the team. This business has to be able to stand on its own without support from Governement(i.e. taxpayers). If it cannot stand on its own it will eventually fail. The only business model that makes any sense at all is the ECHL model because it can stand on its own, and the ticlket price will be under $20. For an AHL or Q team to come here, the ticket price will have to be well over $20 and the Corporate Partners will see a big increase in their costs if the owners expect to get a return on their investment.

  • jason clarke
    January 12, 2011 - 10:39

    Obviously the market needs to be educated on the ECHL. The ECHL is a very good league with many NHL draft picks playing there. For every Brandon Roach there is an Adam Pardy. Adam played with Las Vegas and is now in Calgary on a two year one way deal. 32 draft picks who played in the ECHL last year made their NHL debut this year. All teams are affiliated with the AHL and NHL and players move up and down. Generally the top draft picks play in the AHL but the kids drafted in the 3rd to 7th round often end up in the ECHL. Generally teams carry 15-17 players and they play alot as their NHL teams want them developed. This is not the East Coast league of 15 years ago where it was basically goon hockey.

  • Willy
    January 12, 2011 - 10:18

    Something tells me that the "source" here is Robin's alter ego.

  • Vinnie
    January 12, 2011 - 09:57

    Hockeyfan, you are right in saying that the Q will display some future NHL stars and talent, but for the most part, teams in the Q are filled with kids that will end up playing in the ECHL, university hockey and senior leagues. The ECHL does not get the big name players, but the teams are filled some with young men that, if you check the NHL rosters as mentioned in the story, will get there. Overall, the ECHL provides a much better product, while leagues like the Q offer a few future stars as well as players that may end up playing in minor pro leagues.

  • HockeyFan
    January 12, 2011 - 09:55

    With the right owner--ie one with deep pockets--the Q can work in St. John's. Look at the Moncton Wildcats. They were floundering the first year they were in the League and called the Alphines. Then Robert Irving bought the teamm and there has been no looking back for them since. The rest of Atlantic Canada that had AHL teams and went to the QMJHL took to the Q like flies to water so why can't St. John's? I honestly don't think that St. John's is the hockey town that people think they are.

  • Jim
    January 12, 2011 - 09:48

    Mile One is too big for the city. If the Fog Devils had played at Memorial Stadium the crowds would have looked very good most of the time. But a good crowd at Memorial Stadium looks half-empty at Mile One. Whereas the old stadium felt cozy and welcoming, Mile One is a giant cavern. Creating a buzz in place 40 nights per year will be a challenge for any franchise, regardless of which league comes to town.

  • amazed
    January 12, 2011 - 09:27

    Way to go Wince, we love the negativity. Don't go, let us who like hockey go.

  • Kitty
    January 12, 2011 - 09:07

    What is it with some of you people? You assume things are going to fail without giving them a chance...talk about shooting yourself in the foot to spite your face. With such self-defeatist attitudes it's no wonder ventures like this fail - how about showing some support for what we able to bring in instead of expecting better. In order to get better we need to work harder and show our support instead of thumbing our noses at 'lesser talent' or 'lower leagues'. And people try to say that the rest of Canada is full of elitist snobs? Go look in the mirror sometime - just because our economy is in an upswing does not make us better or more deserving than anybody else, nor does it mean that we automatically have the right to the very best out there to offer. Like anything else, we have to work for those things, including hockey teams.

  • Frank
    January 12, 2011 - 09:05

    Robin seems to be as desperate for a hockey article these days as St. John's would be for crap hockey if it settles for the ECHL. You can dress it up all you want Robin, the ECHL or for the matter the Q is only a few steps up from the quality of our street hockey. I have seen what the ECHL hast o offer and it's a joke.

  • HockeyFan
    January 12, 2011 - 09:05

    Vinnie how is the ECHL superior to the Q? Because it's pro hockey? For the most part most of the players in the ECHL are not going anywhere unlike the players in the Q. Did Sidney Crosby or Luke Adam ever spend a day in the ECHL? Not likely. That League is for players who for the most part will never make it to either the NHL or the AHL. That's the reason that Brandon Roache came home. He used to play in that League but realized that a pro career was never going to happen so he came home and played in the senior league. It better be the AHL or the Q coming back to Mile One and I would rather that the Q come first.

  • Vinnie
    January 12, 2011 - 08:56

    You can't always get yourself a ready made team, expansion may be the only option. If people here want to see good hockey, they may need to be patient. As for the ECHL being "a step above the present senior league", that couldn't be farther from the truth. I have seen a enough of both the senior league and the ECHL to tell you that it is good hockey, just a step below the AHL, but far superior to the QMJHL. If the AHL boat has sailed, the ECHL is the next best option.

  • Jack Yetman
    January 12, 2011 - 08:46

    I would love to see the ECHL come to NL, I had four season tickets for two years at mile one when the Q league played here and I could not give away the tickets in the last year the Fog Devils played here and the Fog Devil team had many great NL kids on the roster, I would not spend a red cent to watch that Q hockey again. If another Q team comes to mile one they are only going to last two seasons at the most and it will be another empty rink. St. John's and area are true hockey people and they want good hockey and looking at the ECHL web site this hockey looks like a good fit for NL. The people here would see great hockey and this should be great for the local business and tourism in NL. I hope this local group are successful in bringing the ECHL to NL and I am sure this will be the answer for mile one and the NL people. Thank-you, Jack

  • Craig Warren
    January 12, 2011 - 08:36

    Guys...who are we kidding! You need a viable league team in order to create any interest in St John's. I no longer live in the city, however when I did return and took in Leaf or Fog Devil games over the years the White Elephant was half full at best. I am not saying this is the case for all games, but you need to have a recognized brand. In my opinion - go for the gusto and prepare for the next best thing (AHL) in an attempt to have a chance of placing as many butts in seats. The Leafs did this for many years and when an average product was placed on the ice the hard working people of the Avalon and surrounding areas lost interest. Do your homework! A sub par team will not cut it as this is probably a step above the present senior league. Do what is necessary, be serious and attract the best possible franchise as possible.

  • Wince
    January 12, 2011 - 08:26

    ECHL? Doomed to fail.

  • Dave
    January 12, 2011 - 07:38

    "However, like baseball’s American and National leagues, teams in the East and West play only within their conference during the regular season." Not overly import to the subject of the story, but I guess Robin doesn't follow baseball too closely. Major League Baseball has had inter-league play for about 10 years now.