CEO Jon Danos Charged With Further Growing Frontier League
For the past 27 seasons, the Frontier League has had a commissioner running the league. But it’s new head Jon Danos was given the title of chief executive officer. As you would expect, that’s by design.
As Danos takes over a league getting ready to enter its 29th year, his charge is to further grow the league at a time where the independent baseball world has reshuffled and become partner leagues with closer ties to Major League Baseball.
“What the league was looking for was obviously a baseball person, but they are looking for a business of baseball person," Danos said. "Somebody who has been in the game, who can align and unify an organization through leadership and acumen through all sorts of disciplines . . . Someone who is focused on strategy, long-term growth of the game and to try to find this path for what the Frontier Leagues niche will be. Exactly what it will be."
Danos’ first season in charge begins Thursday, May 27, as the Frontier League kicks off its 2021 season. He takes over a league that has recently grown to 16 teams through a merger with the Can-Am League. And he takes over a league that is getting ready to begin its first season as a partner league with public ties to MLB.
Danos has worked as an executive with Maryland Baseball, LLC, which owned and operated Orioles affiliates in Frederick, Bowie and Delmarva. He went on to be a partner, president and chief operating officer of Opening Day Partners, which owned and operated four independent Atlantic League teams: Sugar Land, York, Lancaster and Southern Maryland. Most recently, Danos served as executive director of athletics at the University of New Hampshire.
“I’ve been on both sides of the game," Danos said. "I have always believed that the line between the two should be blurred."
Where the Frontier League and partner leagues in general fit in pro baseball in the 2020s remains to be defined. The reduction of the affiliated minor leagues from 160 to 120 teams means there will be less players in affiliated ball. The MLB draft has been cut from 40 rounds to 20, which means less players will be entering affiliated ball directly as well.
The Frontier League has generally aimed at signing younger players than the American Association and Atlantic League, which means that it, along with the Pioneer League, seems to be a logical landing spot for undrafted players looking to play their way into affiliated ball. But the Frontier League has in recent years expanded its eligibility rules to allow more veteran players to play in the league. Figuring out its spot in the world of player development will be one of Danos’ responsibilities.
“We have to really define what our role is in the journey of a professional player. We have to make that more crisp,” Danos said. “Obviously with fewer rounds in the MLB draft that is an opportunity for the Frontier League.”
And the league will be looking to continue to grow. The history of the independent leagues showed that leagues had to continually be looking for opportunities, partly to grow, but also to handle attrition. Four of the 12 teams in the Frontier League a decade ago have since left the league.
“Of course expansion is in the mix, but bigger doesn’t always mean better. We want to be fundamentally sound and we want to be relevant," Danos said. "From there we can build our brand and look for communities that are similarly minded. I believe there will be a new wave of investment in public amenities including ballparks. We have to be well positioned to tap into that."
For the Frontier League, like every other professional league, 2021 will be about climbing out of the financial hole created by the coronavirus pandemic, but Danos is very optimistic about the path forward.
“ I’m a big believer we are going to experience the Roaring Twenties here,” Danos said.