After shutting down for the entire 2020 Northwoods League season, the Madison Mallards are prepping for a scaled-down 2021 campaign and working with city officials to address ballpark debt and extend the current lease.
With a national hodgepodge of state and local government regulations surrounding COVID-19 mitigation, most teams face a variety of issues when planning for 2021. This continues a series on how teams are preparing for 2021.
After Dane County enacted very strict rules designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in outdoor gatherings, the Mallards ownership made the decision to skip the 2020 season, but their other teams in the same league–the Kenosha Kingfish and Green Bay Booyah (since sold)–did play a modified schedule. Similarly, an associated USL League One team, Forward Madison, ended up playing the 2020 season in nearby Wauwatosa and not at Breese Stevens Field, the WPA venue formerly hosting Minor League Baseball in Madison.
While Dane County has loosened some restrictions in recent weeks–local schools are cleared to reopen–it’s still uncertain to how things will play out for large outdoor gatherings, says the Wisconsin State Journal:
“I think all we have right now is optimism,” Mallards president Vern Stenman said. “We’ve continued our dialogue with public health. We don’t have a clear answer from them on our ability to return to play and I don’t think that’s coming any time in the near future.”
Even if Public Health Madison and Dane County loosens limitations on sports contests and large gatherings, Stenman told the Madison Parks Commission last month that he didn’t anticipate the Mallards being allowed to play at Warner Park’s full 6,750 capacity for games in 2021.
Stenman said he didn’t want to publicly discuss whether the team was looking for a venue outside of Dane County to play until the restrictions are removed, or when it would have to make that decision.
The Mallards, however, have managed to work out a new use agreement for Warner Park that lowers the rent (the 2020 rent went from $65,238 to $1) and introduced flexibility for the 2021 rent while reworking terms for the team’s repayment of debt stemming from a 2017 renovation. And it also addresses other issues with Warner Park that need addressing, such as upgraded clubhouses, field replacement, upgraded dugouts and better restrooms.
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