NEW BRITAIN - According to reports, the New Britain Bees may be leaving the Atlantic League after four seasons.
Per Mike Ashmore of MyCentralJersey.com the Bees are not expected to continue as an Atlantic League team in 2020, prompting the league to seek alternatives for next season, including a return of the Road Warriors, a traveling franchise that has no home schedule, much like what was utilized in 2018.
Despite the reports, the Bees have said they expect to play in the Hardware City next season.
“There will be Bees baseball in New Britain in 2020,” Bees assistant general manager Paul Hermann told the Herald, though he wouldn’t comment on if it would be as a part of the Atlantic League.
The official Bees Twitter account also posted a tweet on Thursday afternoon stating, “The New Britain Bees are looking forward to another great season of baseball at New Britain Stadium in 2020. Stay tuned … and look out for our 2020 schedule which will be announced shortly.”
Atlantic League president Rick White declined to comment on the Bees’ current standing with the Atlantic League when contacted by the Herald, but did tell MyCentralJersey.com in a story published Thursday, “There’s a great deal of speculation about a Road Warriors team based on some of the challenges we have in one of our markets … We’re trying to resolve that as quickly and efficiently as we can.”
Atlantic League CEO Frank Boulton, who is also listed as an ownership partner with the Bees, would only say he “was not involved with the team’s day-to-day operations,” and directed the Herald to the Bees’ primary owner, Anthony Iacovone, and business partner Michael Pfaff.
Iacovone could not be reached, but Pfaff said, “The only comment we have at this time is the New Britain Bees will be playing in New Britain Stadium in 2020. We will be releasing a schedule soon and look forward to another great year.”
When asked if that would be as part of the Atlantic League or with another league, Pfaff said, “as soon as we have anything further of substance, we will let you know.”
New Britain mayor Erin Stewart did not return a call for comment.
The Atlantic League is expected to add a new team out of Gastonia, North Carolina for the 2021 season, meaning a potential Road Warriors team would be a one-year fix to try and keep eight teams - the Somerset Patriots, Long Island Ducks, High Point Rockers, Lancaster Barnstormers, York Revolution, Sugar Land Skeeters - in the league.
The Bees finished their 2019 season Sept. 22 with their 72nd win of the season, a franchise record. But New Britain averaged just 2,080 fans per game, according to the Atlantic League website, the lowest number among the eight franchises. The team was also last in 2018, averaging 2,654 fans per game.
The Bees signed a 15-year contract in 2016, which is renewable every five years, with the city of New Britain. Next year would be the fifth year. The city currently charges the franchise $150,000 per season in rent, but that number increases to $160,000 in 2021.
The Bees were brought to the Atlantic League for the 2016 season after the New Britain Rock Cats announced a move to Hartford. Stewart connected with the Atlantic League following the Rock Cats’ departure to bring the Bees to New Britain Stadium, but Stewart also talked with representatives from the Canadian-American Baseball League and the Futures League, which could each become possible destinations for the Bees if their time in the Atlantic League is over.
According to MyCentralJersey.com, the Atlantic League is considering bringing the Rockland Boulders in as an eighth team for the 2020 season, which would create a vacancy in the Can-Am League, but described that scenario as “unlikely,” and a route with the Road Warriors more probable.
Ryan Chichester can be reached at (860) 801-5094 or firstname.lastname@example.org