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Snappers sign MOU, receive green light for new ballpark

It appears that the Snappers will remain in Beloit and could be playing out of a new ballpark by 2020. Two local investor groups have bought the team, according to a Memorandum of Understanding announced by the franchise in early September.

“The Beloit Snappers signed a Memorandum of Understanding (‘MOU’) with two sophisticated investor groups,” Beloit Professional Baseball Association president Dennis Conerton said in a statement. “These groups have strong ties to and leadership from Beloit and Rock County.”

Under the rules of Minor League Baseball, the MOU is “confidential, and therefore neither the parties involved of the specific terms will be disclosed” at this time.

The parties agreed to and signed the MOU on Friday, Aug. 31 before the Snappers made the official announcement on Tuesday, Sept. 4. The deadline set by Minor League Baseball for the Snappers to confirm their plans was Monday, Sept. 3.

“This MOU meets a deadline set by Minor League Baseball and the Midwest League to make significant progress toward a new stadium in Beloit to meet the standards required by Major and Minor League Baseball for its affiliate clubs,” Conerton said. “However, there are a number of very important steps and formal legal documents required before the intent of the MOU to keep affiliated baseball in Beloit can be finalized.”

The MOU “sets the framework for the sale of the Snappers to a new ownership group and the construction of a new stadium in downtown Beloit with an opening targeted for the 2020 season,” according to Conerton. “The parties will work toward a January 31, 2019 deadline for the execution of definitive legal documents which can then be reviewed and acted upon by the Midwest League and Minor League Baseball, with final review and approval by the Commissioner of Major League Baseball.” Each of these approvals is necessary in order to complete the sale of the Snappers, confirm the plans for the new stadium and for the Snappers to continue play in the Midwest League.

Securing a new stadium has long been a goal for the Snappers, the Class A affiliate of the Oakland Athletics since 2013. Beloit has played its home games in its current ballpark, Pohlman Field, since 1982, the year of the Snappers’ inception. Aside from renovations to the outfield in 2012, Pohlman Field is largely the same as it was during the team’s early years. The Milwaukee Brewers, who were the Snappers’ affiliate from 1982 to 2004, left Beloit after 23 years because progress towards a new stadium was minimal. The Minnesota Twins picked up the Snappers in 2005, but dropped Beloit as an affiliate after the 2012 season for the same reason as the Brewers.

The Snappers’ first several attempts at a new stadium were unsuccessful. Prior to his death, Beloit-based entrepreneur Ken Hendricks pledged $2 million to one of those attempts, which would have placed a new stadium along Interstate 39/90 in between Beloit and Janesville. His wife, billionaire Diane Hendricks, left the door open on the offer, but the plan did not work out.

In March 2017, Minor League Baseball president Pat O’Conner visited Beloit to speak with Snappers executives, emphasizing the urgency for a new stadium by 2020, when Minor League Baseball’s current Professional Baseball Agreement (PBA) runs out. O’Conner strongly implied that Pohlman Field would likely no longer meet Minor League Baseball’s standards once a new PBA is agreed upon.

“You do not have to worry about Minor League Baseball coming in and taking your team from you,” O’Conner said at the time. “It’s yours to keep or it’s yours to lose; it’s that simple. I’m not here with threats. I’m here with the stark reality that the game of baseball in the last 25 years has moved beyond Beloit today.”

The Snappers have responded to this pressure well. The MOU comes at the close of one of Beloit’s better seasons in recent memory. The Snappers finished with a record better than .500 and made the playoffs, neither of which they had done since 2013.

“The hard work of the team on the field has been rewarded with a very exciting opportunity for the City of Beloit to continue to support the Snappers this year,” Conerton said, “and the Snappers Board will continue to make sure the City of Beloit will have many more years of professional affiliated baseball competing for championships and providing Beloit families with affordable entertainment in downtown Beloit.”

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