After missing initial ABL expansion bid, Wollongong sets sights on 2019-20

On deck: Wollongong-based Blue Sox Alex Howe and Trent D'Antonio ahead of last year's Wollongong Classic. Picture: Adam McLean.
On deck: Wollongong-based Blue Sox Alex Howe and Trent D'Antonio ahead of last year's Wollongong Classic. Picture: Adam McLean.

Baseball Australia CEO Cam Vale has a message for baseball fans in the Illawarra who are disappointed the region has missed out on an expansion team for the upcoming Australian Baseball League season.

Wollongong’s next.

The region was overlooked for a team in next season’s competition, with Baseball Australia choosing to add a New Zealand team and a Korean team based in Australia. 

With those two teams coming into the competition, the timing simply wasn’t right for Wollongong to also join the mix for the upcoming season, Vale said after the announcement.

But the league doesn’t plan on sitting back and waiting for the next expansion period somewhere down the track, Vale plans on expanding the ABL as soon as the 2019-20 season. And when that happens, Wollongong will be first in line.

“We’re moving to an eight-team league for 2018-19, with the Korean Winterball team and New Zealand team,” Vale said. “Now we want to actively pursue bringing Wollongong in for the 2019-2020 season.

“We’re looking at running a process over the next six to nine months that will bring together a local working group made up of as many key stakeholders as possible to bring a team to Wollongong.

“Wollongong hasn’t been beaten or overlooked. It’s really just a timing issue, we’ve known for a little while the challenge around suitable venue and logistics of timing and the major overhaul we’ve done with the existing franchises.

“We just believe waiting another year is the right way forward. We’re confident between now and March 2019  we can put the time in and build a strong case locally to try and secure an external or internal investor.”

The new Korean team set to enter the league will have all 40 matches broadcast live on television in Korea and unfortunately Wollongong doesn’t have a venue capable of hosting a television broadcast.  

“With Korea, the opportunity could’ve been one for Wollongong but with the challenge of the venue requirements, it just couldn’t be accommodated. The Korean team requires 40 games to be broadcast, 20 at home, so we needed to find a venue that is suitable.

Vale has seen in his discussions throughout the past nine months that the desire for a team in Wollongong exists and he’s confident, with more time on their hands, local stakeholders will develop a plan to improve the stadium situation. 

“The willingness to do it is there,” Vale said. “In finding a venue solution, the key is not just an ABL team solution, but a multi-use venue that includes other sports. Finding a venue that can be used for growing local baseball is the main challenge. 

“But the willingness is there and we’re working through what is the right solution. As we’ve done with the Wollongong Classic, the temporary setup works well, but for a full 20-game home season, with broadcast and player safety in mind, we wanted a new Wollongong team to come in on the strongest possible setting.”

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