The Golden Baseball League, Northern League and the United League have joined forces in the creation of a new professional independent league that will be known as the North American League.
The Lake County Fielders, originally part of the Northern League, will be a part of the newly formed North American League.
The league will have between 16 and 20 teams in multiple countries and will cover many of the major markets in the U.S. and Canada in 2011, with expansion already set for 2012.
Except for Major League Baseball, it will be the largest professional league in terms of number of teams and geographies and amongst the top minor leagues in terms of attendance.
The existing leagues will keep their names and their baseball operations structure while consolidating and enhancing a number of business activities. They will adhere to a single and consistent set of league operating by-laws.
"This is an exciting opportunity for the teams of these three leagues," said Kevin Outcalt, chief executive of Diamond Sports & Entertainment, the company that owns and operates the Golden League and will administer the North American League. "This will provide more value to our marketing and business partners, more exposure for our players to advance their careers and increased excitement and fun for the fans of all of our ballclubs. In addition, the business advantages of league-wide advertising and sponsor revenue, collective/volume purchasing to lower costs and shared best practices amongst the teams in the league should drive additional profitability for the North American League member clubs."
The structure of the NAL will be set up with the three original leagues covering their respective regions. The teams will play approximately 75 percent of their games within their region and 25 percent outside their region/division. This will be followed by playoffs that will conclude with a North American Championship Series.
It is anticipated that the league will play a 92- to 100-game regular season that will be determined at the inaugural NAL meetings that will take place in northern California at the end of this month.
All of the existing Golden League, Northern League, and United League teams will be part of the circuit, and it is expected that additional teams will be announced in the coming weeks, as well. The full slate of 2011 NAL teams and the makeup of each region will be announced following the league meeting. Baseball-related playing rules also will be finalized including player classification/eligibility and playing rules.
"This is an excellent move for the Northern League," said Northern League Commissioner Clark Griffith. "By becoming part of this new league, we will enjoy benefits that can't be found anywhere else in minor league baseball and some exciting opportunities that were never available in the Northern League in the past."
Although these three leagues totaled 35 percent of the professional independent minor league baseball teams in North America in 2010, they were responsible for placing half of the players on the Baseball America Indy Top Prospects list, and six of the 14 players named to the all Independent Leagues First Team by Baseball America.
In addition, the three leagues have sold 35 player contracts to major league organizations so far in 2010, and each is recognized as an important source of baseball talent including players, umpires, coaches/managers, and front office/business personnel by big league clubs.