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Bowman Field (a Minor League Baseball field) in Williamsport, Pennsylvania

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. 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 England (and many other countries), 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.

The most famous minor league organization is in baseball. 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 baseball league. Soon, scouts for the National League were travelling to watch minor league teams play and attempting to sign the more talented ones away. Some sports historians cite the connection between the other major league, the American League and its minor league forebear, the Western Association. Soon Major League Baseball began formal developmental agreements with some minor league teams, while others remained independent. The most prominent independent minor baseball league today is probably the Northern League.

The sport with the next most extensive system of minor leagues other than baseball is ice hockey. The American Hockey League is the most prominent of these, with most NHL teams having a "farm" team in the AHL where they develop young players and 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. Junior and Senior hockey leagues are similar, but not exactly equivalent, to minor leagues due to their age and experience restrictions.

The National Basketball Association has an affiliated minor league, the NBA Development League (also called the "D-League"). Additionally, the Continental Basketball Association has served some of the purposes of a minor league for the NBA for many years. However, there are 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.

While Major League Soccer does not have any affiliated minor leagues, the United Soccer Leagues contains two separate divisions of professional teams, USL-1 and USL-2 (which also do not have a promotion and relegation system). These two divisions serve as the second and third levels of the American soccer pyramid. The USL also contains the Premier Development League, a semi-professional league that has some age restrictions.

While there are various semi-professional football leagues, none have any affiliation with the National Football League. 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 League. Many consider the Arena Football League to be a minor league, but this is not exactly the case. Arena Football is played under very different conditions, and the AFL has survived for 20 years and has now established itself as a viable professional league. The AFL has its own minor league, af2, and several 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. Several minor and developmental leagues independent of the NFL have come and gone; there are currently four that are in development (some of which dispute the "minor league" label)-- the UNGL (purely a minor league), UFL (complementary or developmental league), New USFL (complementary, major/minor intentions not yet stated), and AAFL (complementary league).

Other sports organizations considered to be minor leagues are the golf Nationwide Tour, affiliated with the PGA Tour, NASCAR's Nationwide Series, Camping World Truck Series and Whelen All-American Series, and various other affiliated satellite tours of other individual sports, including the Challengers Tour of Professional Tennis.

See also

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