By JOHN BOHNENKAMP
David Brauer is trying to get to know everything about the Prospect League.
Brauer, the new commissioner of the 17-team summer baseball league for college players in the Midwest, has taken his first few weeks on the job to get, as he said, an idea of “the pulse” of the league.
“We’ve got 17 teams, 17 different markets,” Brauer said at Friday’s Burlington Bees/Friends of Community Field Winter Banquet at the Pzazz Events Center. “They vary from teams with minor-league backgrounds like the Bees, to teams that have always been in summer college leagues. There are new franchises, and teams that have been in the league for a while. So it’s really getting a vibe for what these markets are like, what the community support is, which obviously is tremendous.”
Brauer brings to the league a background in college athletics, having spent 10 years as assistant commissioner of the Summit League, an NCAA Division I conference that includes Western Illinois University. So he understands the challenges that his new league faces.
“We’re about player development, making a great experience for the players,” he said. “At the same time, these teams are businesses, so they have to make money. It’s about finding that intersection between the communities, the teams, and the players.
“Really, the biggest key for me is trying to take inventory on what the league has done, trying to get a feel for where we want to go, and then mix in some of the ideas I have from my experience working on the college side.”
Brauer knows how competitive summer baseball has gotten.
“When this league started back in the 1960s, there were maybe three or four leagues like it around the country,” he said. “Now there’s about 30 of varying levels, depending on what the leagues put into it.
“Ours is unique because we’re trying to give that professional experience. You know, a lot of our stadiums are either old minor league parks or very capable of hosting a minor league team. So that’s a big plus. It all boils down to recruiting.”
The Prospect League recently entered into an agreement with sports analytics firm Rapsodo to provide live in-game data to players. That kind of information, Brauer said, is important to players to take back to their college programs.
“The student-athletes, they’re our biggest customer,” he said. “Word of mouth is the best way to grow our league. They’ll go back to their campuses, talk to their teammates and their coaches.”
Brauer is also looking into name-image-likeness opportunities for players, as well as mental health programs during the season.
“I think all of that is critical,” he said. “It’s just like how you would sell a college program. ‘That’s why you should come here and here’s how you can benefit from it.’
“What I would like to see us go with this at some point is to really have a multi-pronged approach — the player development side, certainly the skill development, and off-the-field development. You really can utilize that summer time. There’s so many aspects to baseball that go beyond the field that can help a player develop, that we’d really like to be toward the forefront of that.”
The league added new teams in Jackson, Tennessee, and Marion, Illinois for this season. The variety of markets, Brauer said, could be a financial benefit to the entire league.
“If you’re a business in Burlington, you’re going to advertise with the Bees,” Brauer said. “I think from a national level, the diversity of our markets, with the fact that we span across seven states, the more exposure that we can get to showcase our players, I think that that can help the revenue side.
“There’s only so much to go around, let’s be realistic. Between the summer leagues and minor league baseball, it’s competitive. But I think if we can find those revenue sources that can help us to just supplement our teams, that’s huge at the end of the day.”
Photo: Prospect League commissioner David Brauer speaks during Friday’s Burlington Bees/Friends Of Community Field Winter Banquet at the Pzazz Events Center. (Steve Cirinna/Burlington Bees)