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MiLB teams warn of dire consequences due to state restrictions

Minor League Baseball logoWith several states operating under stay-at-home orders potentially extending through the summer or even the end of the year, MiLB teams are warning prohibitions on crowds could cripple their businesses for months to come.

Take, for example, the statement issued by the Portland Sea Dogs (Class AA; Eastern League) earlier this week. With Maine potentially operating under stay-at-home rules through the end of July, the Sea Dogs season could be threatened by prohibitions on crowds:

We want to update our fans on where we stand with the 2020 Portland Sea Dogs season. While our season is still officially delayed, we do want to respect Governor Janet Mills’ re-opening plans which restrict crowds of more than 50 through at least July. Given those guidelines we want to be fair and transparent to our fans on how we are planning to move forward at this time.

As an organization our focus is now shifting to taking care of our fans who have purchased tickets for the 2020 season. Fans with tickets for this season may hold on to the hard tickets and exchange them for any game in the 2021 season. In addition, fans who would like a refund may mail their tickets to the Sea Dogs Ticket Office no later than Friday, August 28, 2020….

Despite the increasing likelihood we will not be able to host fans this season, we remain committed to paying all our full-time and game-day staff for the season. Like many others in our community, our organization is facing a difficult year, but we are committed to making sure our fans and employees are cared for. And when baseball returns to Hadlock Field we promise to be ready to deliver the family entertainment you have counted on us for since 1994.

In closing, we want to thank all the front-line workers who are performing their essential job functions during this difficult period.

A similar warning was issued by River Cats general manager Chip Maxson after California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued new stay-at-home orders broken down into four steps, with the opening of sports competitions sans fans in Stage Three and the opening of sports and entertainment venues in Stage Four. California is currently in Stage One and a move to Stage Two is expected in a few weeks.

While opening sports venues to competition sans fans may be a solution for the NFL and MLB 2020 seasons, it’s not useful for MiLB’s Pacific Coast League and California League teams, who derive the majority of revenues from gate and concession revenue, as well as sponsorship deals based on in-ballpark advertising. Merch and take-out-food revenues are nice, but at the end of the day a team needs game-derived revenues to survive. From the Sacramento Bee:

“The River Cats understand public health and safety is everyone’s top priority and we are trying to do our part by supporting the community through hosting blood drives, working with local food banks, and checking in with our fans,” Maxson said. “The uncertainty around the governor’s timeline for fans to attend sporting events creates a great challenge for all teams, especially MiLB teams like the River Cats, who are community-focused, do not have large media-rights agreements, and are 100-percent dependent on large public gatherings.

“If there are no games in 2020, the time between games at Sutter Health Park will be more than 18 months. We are trying to operate as lean and as efficient as possible, but the reality is that no business is set up to go 18 months without revenue.”

Maxson said the River Cats have already laid off two-thirds of their full-time staff. The 20 staffers who remain are working reduced hours. Many minor league teams across the country are taking similar steps. Maxson said two teams called him Thursday to ask how the River Cats determined which employees to keep and which ones to let go.

“I can’t speak to all teams, but this morning I’ve been on calls with a few other minor league teams, and there are weekly calls and then some larger league-level and national calls, and the majority of teams are struggling mightily,” Maxson said.

With daily news about the spread of the coronavirus impacting the sports-business and facilities industries, it’s more important than ever to stay up with the latest news in the venues industry. That’s why we launched a Venues Digest newsletter focusing on coronavirus information across the ballparks, arenas, stadiums, theater and performing-arts worlds. For now it will appear daily, and for now it will be free of charge to industry professionals. Sign up here.

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