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Northwoods League teams eye June 15 launch

Northwoods LeagueThough there’s been no official announcement from the league, summer-collegiate Northwoods League teams say they’re looking at a June 15 season opening with fans in the stands, if local COVID-19 mitigation guidelines permit.

Both the Bismarck Larks and the Rochester Honkers have taken to social media to announce their intention–or, desire, anyway–to launch the season on June 15, unveiling ballpark safety guides in the process. In North Dakota, local regulations won’t prevent the Larks from beginning play, but current guidelines in Minnesota (hosting five Northwoods League teams, including the Honkers), Michigan (hosting three Northwoods League teams), Illinois (hosting one Northwoods League team) and Ontario (hosting a Thunder Bay Northwoods League team) would prevent teams based there from launching. In addition, Wade Stadium, home of the Duluth Huskies, has been ordered closed until July 1. Wisconsin counties are operating under a patchwork of opening guidelines; right now Dane County, home to the Madison Mallards, is in Phase One of a reopening protocol, with crowds limited to 50 in public outdoor venues.

So while these states are in various stages of reopening protocols, the challenge will be to set up a schedule that both allows play and some sort of limited fan access.

“It’s no secret that we’re a seasonal business that fully depends on fans in our stands during the summer months and the support from our great community sponsors to operate,” said Honkers co-owner Chris Goodell, part of the group that also owns the La Cross Loggers and Mankato MoonDogs.  “We only have a finite window to get in our home games and, if we don’t get clearance soon, that window will be closing.”

Also up for debate: an extension of the season to Labor Day (a challenge, with many major universities announcing plans to reopen earlier than normal in August), or a July 1 opening date.

“We’re a business that completely revolves around social gatherings,” said Loggers GM Ben Kapanke. “We can’t do curbside baseball or play games without fans. We need people in the ballpark to make our model work, from selling tickets to concessions to sponsorships. We’re putting together as of right now a readiness plan we’ll be having on our website and available at the ballpark, as far as guidelines that we’re going to take in the ballpark for fans to feel safe.”

The Great Lakes Summer Collegiate LeaguePerfect Game Collegiate Baseball League, New York Collegiate Baseball LeagueNew England Collegiate Baseball League, Cape Cod League and the Valley Baseball League have canceled the 2020 season. The Expedition LeagueWestern Canadian Baseball LeagueProspect LeagueCoastal Plain LeagueNorthwoods League, Futures Collegiate Baseball League, West Coast League and the Texas Collegiate League have announced delays to the 2020 summer-collegiate season. We expect these leagues to announce their 2020 plans between now and June 3.

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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