Tester Goes to Bat for Rural Baseball Fans, Presses MLB to Play Ball on New Pioneer League Contract

Senator: “MLB should not walk away from its rural fans”

Today, as the agreement that has kept professional baseball in play across Montana reaches its expiration date, U.S. Senator Jon Tester is pressing Major League Baseball (MLB) officials to step up to the plate and commit to preserving the Pioneer League.

In a letter to MLB Commissioner Robert Manfred, Tester is urging MLB to negotiate a new contract with Minor League Baseball (MiLB) that maintains and expands the Pioneer League in Montana, outlining the positive impact of Montana’s minor league teams on their communities and local economies.

“I hear from local officials in my state about the heartbreak the absence of the Pioneer League could have on their communities’ fans and businesses,” Tester wrote. “I strongly believe the future of MLB will also be harmed by pulling out of rural states like Montana. A baseball fan pays the same amount for an MLB.TV subscription whether they live in Manhattan, Montana or Manhattan, New York. MLB should not walk away from its rural fans.”

The Professional Baseball Agreement between MLB and minor league teams expires September 30, 2020, potentially signaling the end of professional baseball in Montana. Last fall, MLB stated their intention to restructure the minor league system, leading to a proposal that would eliminate more than 40 MiLB teams, including the Billings Mustangs, Great Falls Voyagers, Missoula Osprey, and the remainder of the Pioneer League.

Montana is one of only two states that does not have a single major league professional sports team, nor does it border a state that has a major league professional sports team. Montana’s Pioneer League ball clubs build connections between Treasure State communities and baseball, and dozens of small businesses invest in marketing with Montana’s teams to support the franchises and grow their customer bases.

Tester has fought hard to keep baseball in Montana, and he was slated to host a meeting with MLB executives in Montana before the COVID-19 outbreak. He also urged MLB not to abandon Montana and met with Deputy MLB Commissioner of Baseball Administration Dan Halem to discuss the League’s proposal. Tester, a Montreal Expos—and later, Washington Nationals—fan since the 1980s, would watch games broadcast from Canada after long days working on his farm in Big Sandy.

Read the Senator’s letter to Commissioner Manfred HERE.