Minor leagues are professional sports leagues which are not regarded as the premier leagues in those sports. Minor league teams tend to play in smaller, less elaborate venues, often competing in smaller cities/markets. This term is used in North America with regard to several organizations competing in various sports. They generally have lesser fan bases and smaller budgets.
The minor league concept is a manifestation of the franchise system used in North American sports, whereby the group of major league teams in each sport is fixed for long periods between expansions or other adjustments, which only take place with the consent of the major league owners. In Europe, and many other parts of the world, the football leagues have many divisions below the top-flight as part of the football pyramid. In other parts of the world there is usually either a system of annual promotion and relegation, meaning that clubs have no fixed status in the hierarchy, or there is only one professional league per country in each sport, rendering the major/minor distinction irrelevant.
While there are various semi-professional football leagues, none have any affiliation with the National Football League (NFL). The NFL and its teams have had working relationships with several independent leagues in the past, including the Association of Professional Football Leagues, the Atlantic Coast Football League, and most recently, the league owned-and-operated NFL Europe. In modern times, the NFL has developed players not ready for the active roster through each team's practice squad.
Many consider the Arena Football League to have been a de facto minor league, since several NFL owners had teams in it in the mid-2000s, prior to its bankruptcy and restructuring. Arena football is played under very different conditions, and the AFL had its own minor league, af2, until 2009. Several other independent indoor football leagues that play a similar game exist.
Similarly, the Canadian Football League, though it has developed ties with the NFL in recent years and has moved away from competing with the NFL for talent, plays a visibly different game than the American game, and the two sports favor different types of skills; the CFL arguably holds major league status in its home territory of Canada.
Several minor or developmental leagues, independent of the NFL, have come and gone, such as the XFL, United Football League, Alliance of American Football and the Fall Experimental Football League, but none have lasted more than a few seasons. A revival of the XFL is scheduled for 2020. The promotion for XFL (2020) has begun. On November 27, 2016, it was reported by CBS Sports that the NFL will present formal proposals for a developmental league or in-season academy (with Troy Vincent prepared to make recommendations) in 2017. Vincent stated "We are ready to socialize our findings to the respective committees at the Pro Bowl, Senior Bowl, and combine" he also stated "We have some viable potential options that are ready to share with the Competition Committee, the Coaches Subcommittee and with some of our active and former players", "Our goal is to create a platform that addresses the entire football community--coaches, officials, front office personnel and players--is essential to the long-term sustainability of our game."
Below Major League Soccer several lower-level leagues operate on both sides of the U.S.–Canada border as part of the American and Canadian soccer pyramids. As is standard for sports in both countries, the formal promotion and relegation system is not used, although teams have been informally "promoted" from lower leagues up to Major League Soccer. As of the current 2018 U.S.–Canada soccer season, the second level is the United Soccer League (USL), which will be rebranded as the USL Championship for 2019 and beyond. The North American Soccer League had previously been the second level, sharing that status with the USL in 2017, but major instability in the NASL led to the loss of that league's second-division status and raised serious questions as to its very survival. USL's parent organization, known as the United Soccer Leagues (note the plural), also operates USL League Two (formerly the Premier Development League, or PDL), a semi-professional league that has some age restrictions. The National Premier Soccer League operates at approximately the same level as League Two. While there was no official third-level professional league in 2018, the USL organization plans to launch USL League One at that level in 2019, and another third-level circuit, the National Independent Soccer Association, also plans a 2019 launch.
In 2013 Major League Soccer announced a partnership with the USL which began formal affiliation between some USL teams and MLS teams. The partnership has continued to deepen; several MLS teams now field their own reserve teams in the USL, and MLS now requires all of its teams to either field a reserve team in the USL or officially affiliate with a separately owned USL team. No formal relationship exists between NASL and the other leagues; NASL's commissioner has said he believes it will "stay that way for some time".
Minor league baseball is almost as old as the professional game itself, and at first consisted of attempts to play baseball in smaller cities and towns independent of the National League, the first true major league. Soon, scouts for the National League were traveling to watch minor league teams play and attempting to sign the more talented ones away. Soon Major League Baseball began formal developmental agreements with some minor league teams, while others remained independent.
Since it was first developed in the 1920s by St. Louis Cardinals executive Branch Rickey, the formal developmental affiliations have come to dominate minor league baseball, and the majority of minor leagues are part of the affiliated system. A general decline in minor league attendance occurred following the advent of television; minor league clubs only survived in many markets because their major league affiliations included financial support. The trend began to reverse in the 1990s, as new independent minor leagues began for the first time in decades and have become successful to varying levels.
The National Basketball Association has an affiliated minor league: the NBA G League (formerly called the "NBA D-League"). The now-defunct Continental Basketball Association (CBA) served some of the purposes of a minor league for the NBA for many years. However, there were no direct developmental agreements between CBA and NBA teams the way that there are between Major League Baseball and National Hockey League teams and their minor league affiliates.
The sport with the next most extensive system of minor league teams other than baseball is ice hockey. In North America, between 1988 and 2005, 233 minor ice hockey teams played in a total of 160 cities in 13 minor professional leagues. The vast majority of these teams played in the United States, with only 21 of these teams based in Canadian cities. 123 of these minor professional teams played in the southern United States. One reason given for the large number of American-based teams is that minor league franchises will frequently move from city to city, and even between leagues. In contrast, Canadian cities more commonly host major junior teams, which develop teenage prospects prior to their move to the professional leagues.
The American Hockey League is the most prominent of the minor hockey leagues in North America.
Current minor leagues
Former minor leagues
All National Hockey League teams have a farm team in the American Hockey League and often have a secondary affiliated team in the ECHL. On "the farm", the NHL team will develop young players, occasionally rehabilitate older players who are injured or whose quality of play has slumped. These teams, in turn, have lower-level minor leagues to draw players from and pass players down to. Minor professional ice hockey leagues should not be confused with Junior (amateur players) or Senior (semi-professional to amateur) ice hockey leagues.
Other sports organizations considered to be minor leagues are golf's Web.com Tour and Symetra Tour, respectively affiliated with the PGA Tour and LPGA; NASCAR's Xfinity Series, Ganders Outdoors Truck Series and Whelen All-American Series (and to a lesser extent ARCA and it's ARCA Menards Series due to ARCA's buyout by NASCAR in 2018); Monster Jam's Triple Threat Series; and various other affiliated satellite tours of other individual sports, including the Challengers Tour of Professional Tennis.
The Birmingham Barons are a Minor League Baseball team based in Birmingham, Alabama. The team, which plays in the Southern League, is the Double-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox and plays at Regions Field in downtown Birmingham. The current edition of the Barons was previously located in Montgomery, Alabama, and known as the Montgomery Rebels.Buffalo Bisons
The Buffalo Bisons are a professional Minor League Baseball team based in Buffalo, New York. They play in the International League (IL) and are the Triple-A affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays. The Bisons play at Sahlen Field in downtown Buffalo.
The Bisons have existed in some form since 1877, most of that time playing in professional baseball's second tier; exceptions have included the 1879–85 Bisons, who played in the major leagues as a member of the National League, and the 1979–84 Bisons, who played at the third-tier Double-A level. The Bisons did not play from June 1970 through the 1978 season.
The 1927 Bisons were recognized as one of the 100 greatest minor league teams of all time. In 2016, Forbes listed the Bisons as the 15th-most valuable Minor League Baseball team with a value of $34 million.Charlotte Knights
The Charlotte Knights are a professional Minor League Baseball team in Charlotte, North Carolina. The team, which plays in the International League, is the Triple-A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox of the American League. The Knights play at BB&T Ballpark located in Uptown Charlotte.Chattanooga Lookouts
The Chattanooga Lookouts are a Minor League Baseball team of the Southern League and the Double-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds. They are located in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and are named for nearby Lookout Mountain. The team plays its home games at AT&T Field which opened in 2000 and seats 6,340 fans. They previously played at Engel Stadium from 1930 through 1999, with a one-year break in Montgomery, Alabama's Cramton Bowl in 1943.Chicago Wolves
The Chicago Wolves are a professional ice hockey team playing in the Central Division of the Western Conference of the American Hockey League. The Wolves play home games at the Allstate Arena in the Chicago suburb of Rosemont, Illinois and are owned by Chicago business owners Don Levin and Buddy Meyers. They are the minor league affiliate of the Vegas Golden Knights.
Originally a member of the International Hockey League, the Wolves joined the AHL after the IHL folded in 2001.Columbus Clippers
The Columbus Clippers are a professional Minor League Baseball team based in Columbus, Ohio. The team plays in the International League and is the Triple-A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians. The team is owned by the government of Franklin County, Ohio.
From 1977 to 2008, the Clippers played in Cooper Stadium, which was known as Franklin County Stadium until 1984. The final game at "The Coop" was played on September 1, 2008, in front of a sellout crowd of 16,777. It was the third largest audience in stadium history. In 2009, the Clippers began playing in Huntington Park, located at the corner of Neil Ave. and Nationwide Blvd. in the Arena District of Columbus.
The Clippers began play in 1977 as an affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates, changing its affiliation to the New York Yankees in 1979, beginning a 28-year relationship that ended in 2006. An affiliation with the Washington Nationals lasted from 2007 to 2008. A four-year affiliation with the Cleveland Indians was announced on September 18, 2008. That working agreement with the Indians has since been extended four times, now through the 2020 season.
Coincidentally, the major/minor league sports connection between Cleveland and Columbus is duplicated, but with reverse roles, in ice hockey, as the Cleveland Monsters are the top-level minor league affiliate of the National Hockey League's Columbus Blue Jackets.
In 2011, the team won back-to-back Governors' Cup championships for the first time since 1992 by defeating the Lehigh Valley IronPigs 3 games to 1 in the best-of-five series. They went on to defeat the Omaha Storm Chasers in the Triple-A Baseball National Championship Game to win their second consecutive Triple-A baseball title.The 1992 Clippers were recognized as one of the 100 greatest minor league teams of all time. In 2016, Forbes listed the Clippers as the fifth-most valuable Minor League Baseball team with a value of $41 million.Double-A (baseball)
Double-A (or Class AA) is the second highest level of play in Minor League Baseball (MiLB) in the United States after Triple-A. There are thirty Double-A teams in three leagues at this classification: Eastern League, Southern League, and the Texas League. The modern Double-A classification was created in 1946 with the renaming of Class A1, which then contained the Texas League and the Southern Association. After the Southern Association disbanded in 1961, the Eastern League and the original South Atlantic "Sally" League were bumped up to Double-A in the 1963 minor league reorganization. The SAL changed its name to the Southern League in 1964.Durham Bulls
The Durham Bulls are a professional minor league baseball team that currently plays in the International League. The Bulls play their home games at Durham Bulls Athletic Park in the downtown area of Durham, North Carolina. Durham Bulls Athletic Park is often called the "DBAP" or "D-Bap". The Bulls are the Triple-A affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays. Established in 1902 as the Durham Tobacconists and disbanded many times over the years, the Bulls became internationally famous following the release of the 1988 movie Bull Durham starring Kevin Costner, Tim Robbins, and Susan Sarandon.
Since 1991, the team has been owned by the Raleigh-based Capitol Broadcasting Company. The Durham Bulls are operated by the operating entity Durham Bulls Baseball Club, Inc. which is also owned by the Capitol Broadcasting Company.Fort Wayne Komets
The Fort Wayne Komets are a minor league ice hockey team in the ECHL. They play their home games at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne, Indiana. This team was previously a member of the Central Hockey League, the original International Hockey League, and the second International Hockey League. They have won four post-season championship titles in the original IHL in 1963, 1965, 1973 and 1993, four in the UHL/second IHL in 2003, 2008, 2009 and 2010, and one in the CHL in 2012. In all of North American professional hockey, only the Original Six teams of the NHL and the Hershey Bears of the AHL have played continuously in the same city with the same name longer than the Komets.Hershey Bears
The Hershey Bears are an American professional ice hockey team based in Hershey, Pennsylvania. The current Bears club has played in the American Hockey League since the 1938–39 season making it the longest continuously operating member club of the league still playing in its original city.The Bears organization currently serves as the primary development club for the NHL's Washington Capitals since the 2005–06 season. Since the 2002–03 season the hockey club's home games have been played at Giant Center, located less than half a mile west of Hersheypark Arena, the AHL club's previous home from 1938 to 2002. (The Arena was also the home to the EAHL Hershey Bears from 1936 to 1938.) The Bears have won 11 Calder Cups, more than any other AHL team. They won their most recent title in 2010.
Chocolate manufacturer Milton S. Hershey first established the "Hershey Hockey Club" in 1932 to manage pro hockey teams based in Hershey. Now in its ninth decade, it has operated four teams in three pro leagues, including the AHL Bears. Now called the Hershey Bears Hockey Club, it is a subsidiary of the Hershey Entertainment and Resorts Company (originally called "Hershey Estates" and later "HERCO"), the entertainment and hospitality division of the Hershey Trust Company.Gordie Howe, who was selected into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1972 and was known as "Mr. Hockey," once remarked, "Everybody who is anybody in hockey has played in Hershey," although he himself did not play there.Indianapolis Indians
The Indianapolis Indians are a professional Minor League Baseball team based in Indianapolis, Indiana. The team plays in the International League. The Triple-A affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Indians play at Victory Field in downtown Indianapolis. The team's mascot is Rowdie the Bear.
Founded in 1902, the Indianapolis Indians are the second-oldest minor league franchise in American professional baseball (after the Rochester Red Wings). The 1902 and 1948 Indians were recognized as being among the 100 greatest minor league teams of all time.Las Vegas Aviators
The Las Vegas Aviators, formerly known as the Las Vegas 51s and Las Vegas Stars, are a Minor League Baseball team in the Pacific Coast League (PCL) and the Triple-A affiliate of the Oakland Athletics. They are located in Summerlin, Nevada, a community in Las Vegas. The Aviators play their home games at Las Vegas Ballpark, a new 10,000-seat facility. The team previously played at Cashman Field from 1983 to 2018.
The team won the PCL championship as the Stars in 1986 and 1988.Minor League Baseball
Minor League Baseball is a hierarchy of professional baseball leagues in the Americas that compete at levels below Major League Baseball (MLB) and provide opportunities for player development and a way to prepare for the major leagues. All of the minor leagues are operated as independent businesses. Most are members of the umbrella organization known as Minor League Baseball (MiLB), which operates under the Commissioner of Baseball within the scope of organized baseball. Several leagues, known as independent baseball leagues, do not have any official links to Major League Baseball.
Except for the Mexican League, teams in the organized minor leagues are generally independently owned and operated but are directly affiliated with one major league team through a standardized Player Development Contract (PDC). These leagues also go by the nicknames the "farm system", "farm club", or "farm team(s)" because of a joke passed around by major league players in the 1930s when St. Louis Cardinals general manager Branch Rickey formalized the system, and teams in small towns were "growing players down on the farm like corn".
Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball teams may enter into a PDC for a two- or four-year term. At the expiration of a PDC term, teams may renew their affiliation, or sign new PDCs with different clubs, though many relationships are renewed and endure for extended time periods. For example, the Omaha Storm Chasers (formerly the Omaha Royals and Omaha Golden Spikes) have been the Triple-A affiliate of the Kansas City Royals since the Royals joined the American League in 1969, but the Columbus Clippers changed affiliations, after being associated with the New York Yankees from 1979, to the Washington Nationals in 2007, and have been affiliated with the Cleveland Indians since 2009.
A few minor league teams are directly owned by their major league parent club, such as the Springfield Cardinals, owned by the St. Louis Cardinals, and all of the Atlanta Braves' affiliates except the Florida Fire Frogs. Minor League teams that are owned directly by the major league club do not have PDCs with the parent club and are typically not part of the reaffiliation shuffles that occur each year.
Today, there are 14 MLB-affiliated minor leagues with a total of 160 revenue-generating teams, located in large, medium, and small cities and suburbs across the United States and Canada, and there are three MLB-affiliated rookie leagues with a total of 80 teams, located in Arizona, Florida, and the Dominican Republic, though these teams do not generate revenue. The Mexican League, with 16 teams, is independent but closely tied with MLB. Several more independent leagues operate in the United States and Canada.Nashville Sounds
The Nashville Sounds are a Minor League Baseball team of the Pacific Coast League (PCL) and the Triple-A affiliate of the Texas Rangers. They are located in Nashville, Tennessee, and are named for the city's association with the music industry. The team plays its home games at First Tennessee Park which opened in 2015 and is located on the site of the historic Sulphur Dell ballpark. The Sounds previously played at Herschel Greer Stadium from its opening in 1978 until the end of the 2014 season.
Established as an expansion team of the Double-A Southern League in 1978, the Sounds were replaced by a Triple-A American Association team in 1985. The Triple-A Sounds carried on the history of the Double-A team that preceded it. Nashville later joined the PCL in 1998. The team has served as a farm club for eight major league franchises. A total of 28 managers have led the club and its over 1,200 players. Through the 2018 season, the team has played in 5,866 regular season games and compiled a win–loss record of 3,017–2,849.The Sounds have reached the postseason on 14 occasions. They have won ten division titles, two conference titles, and three league championships. Most recently, they won the PCL championship in 2005 as the Triple-A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers. Previous league titles won by the team are the Southern League championship in 1979 as the Double-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds, and again in 1982 as the Double-A affiliate of the New York Yankees. The team has an overall postseason record of 42–41.
Nashville led all of Minor League Baseball in attendance in their inaugural season and continued to draw the Southern League's largest crowds in each of their seven years as members of the league. The 1980 Sounds were recognized as one of the 100 greatest minor league teams of all time. Of the three nine-inning perfect games in the history of the PCL, two have been pitched by members of the Sounds. In 2016, Forbes listed the Sounds as the 19th-most valuable Minor League Baseball team with a value of US$30.5 million. The Sounds are the oldest active professional sports franchise in Nashville.New Orleans Baby Cakes
The New Orleans Baby Cakes (formerly the New Orleans Zephyrs) are a Minor League Baseball team in the Pacific Coast League (PCL) and the Triple-A affiliate of the Miami Marlins. They are located in Metairie, Louisiana, a suburb of New Orleans, and play their home games at the Shrine on Airline.
The team began play in 1993 as a member of the Triple-A American Association (AA) after the Denver Zephyrs relocated to Metairie. They joined the PCL in 1998. New Orleans has qualified for the postseason on three occasions and has won the PCL championship twice as the Triple-A affiliate of the Houston Astros (1998 and 2001).
The Baby Cakes will relocate to Wichita, Kansas, in 2020. The city of New Orleans hopes to bring in a Double-A Southern League team to carry on the Baby Cakes identity.Norfolk Tides
The Norfolk Tides are a professional minor league baseball team in the Triple-A International League. They play at Harbor Park in Norfolk, Virginia. Since 2007 they have been a farm team of the Baltimore Orioles; prior to that, they had a 38-year affiliation with the New York Mets.San Antonio Missions
The San Antonio Missions are a Minor League Baseball team of the Pacific Coast League and the Triple-A affiliate of the Milwaukee Brewers. They are located in San Antonio, Texas, and are named for The Alamo, originally a Spanish mission located in San Antonio. The Missions play their home games at Nelson W. Wolff Municipal Stadium, which opened in 1994 and seats over 6,200 people with a total capacity of over 9,000.Tennessee Smokies
The Tennessee Smokies are a Minor League Baseball team based in the Knoxville, Tennessee, metropolitan area. The team, which plays in the Southern League, are the Double-A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs. Smokies Stadium, the team's ballpark, is located in the suburb of Kodak, and seats up to 8,000 fans. The team was based in Knoxville and called the Knoxville Smokies for many years before moving to Kodak and changing its name prior to the 2000 season. The team's nickname refers to the Great Smoky Mountains mountain range which permeates the region; mountains in the chain are often clouded in a hazy mist that may appear as smoke rising from the forest.Triple-A (baseball)
Triple-A or Class AAA is the highest level of play in Minor League Baseball in the United States and Mexico. Before 2008, Triple-A leagues also fielded teams in Canada. A total of 30 teams play in the Triple-A International League (IL) and Pacific Coast League (PCL), with 14 teams in the IL and 16 in the PCL. The MLB-independent Mexican League fields 16 teams. Triple-A teams are typically located in large metropolitan areas that do not have Major League Baseball teams, such as San Antonio; Austin; Columbus; and Indianapolis.
Interleague play between the International League and Pacific Coast League occurs twice each season. In July, each league's All-Star team competes in the Triple-A All-Star Game. In September each league's regular season champions play each other in the Triple-A National Championship Game to determine an overall champion of Triple-A baseball.
The Triple-A classification was created before the 1946 season. Prior to then, the top level of the minors had been designated as Double-A since 1912. The modern Double-A classification also dates to 1946, when the former Class A1 level was renamed.