Minor League Baseball & Pandemic

There are over 200 minor league baseball teams operating in the US, Canada, and the Dominican Republic. But, only a few of them have been able to practice the sport over the last year. The pandemic has forced a shutdown on almost every sport. And baseball’s minor leagues are no different.

Notably, the entire season for 2020 for minor leagues was canceled as the COVID cases surged at an alarming rate. Of course, the safety of the players and the fans should be the utmost.

When a season is canceled, it is not just the thought – “oh, let’s stay at home and watch Netflix.” Perhaps, the repercussions are far-reaching and have economic impacts too.

The clubs and teams still need funds to keep up their operations and maintain their practice fields.

Thankfully, on June 24 this year, a Minor League Baseball Relief Act was introduced in the House. The relief was to divert already available but unspent COVID-19 relief funds to help the teams.

A total of $550 million was sanctioned to help with payroll costs and regular business expenses. Additionally, the teams can also use the funds for the health and safety of the workers.

The grants added up to 45% of 2019 gross revenues that the minor league clubs generated. In addition to this, the relief was capped at $10 million over the club, although the clubs have a chance to seek an additional grant if the revenues don’t recover.

Minor League Owners And Lobbying Firms

In 2020, 160 minor league teams were eligible for funding from federal or state relief funds. However, the new bill only considered 120 of these teams to receive the grant. The proponents of the bill are already pressing that all 160 teams be made eligible for receiving the grant.

As a result, the minor league owners are now hiring influential lobbying firms to press the lawmakers on the cause.

The pitch to the lawmakers focuses on the very essence of the sport. Even the smallest of the leagues, be it Wisconsin sports teams or Cincinnati clubs, nurtures local economies. Besides, the sport is a critical source of entertainment and joy for Americans. And it may help the population return to life as they knew it, with caution.

Notably, the money that the lobbyists are asking for is just a drop in the bucket; compared with the amount of money that has already been spent on pandemic relief.

It is A Family Affair For The Sport

Minor league baseball is not limited to local communities only. Indeed, for years the minor leagues have been grooming players for the big game.

In other words, minor leagues form an easy entry point for major league players.

The big-league teams are generally affiliated with tiers of teams, from Low-A to Triple A.

Now, you can do the math yourself. There are 30 teams in the big leagues. Each of them is affiliated with 4 tiers of teams. This makes the total of 120 teams in the minor league that are somehow in affiliation with the big game.

Perhaps, asking for direct federal relief, is a reliable bet.

According to John Affleck, the Knight Chair in Sports Journalism and Society at Penn State University, the politics of minor league baseball is transforming the biases in the game.

Besides, minor leagues are fun for families in many ways. Kids get to meet the players, participate in competitions, and sometimes even run the bases. The fans are often seen cheering the players pushing them to exceed their performance and make it to the majors.

Minor leagues are cherished in communities where there are not tons of sports otherwise.

It is noteworthy that more than 40 million fans attend minor league games every season. Of course, this was before the pandemic hit us all.

Statistically, more than four in five Americans live in a community with at least one minor league club.

Clearly, minor leagues are quite popular and contribute significantly to the American economy.

2020 Has Been The Hardest Year Ever In Sports History

The prime reason for seeking advocacy was the minor league teams were missing out on several rounds of COVID-19 relief. And this comes when a significant revenue drop has been suffered by the team owners.

Unlike other sports, minor league baseball matches were canceled for an entire year. Yes, not even a single game was played in the 2020 season.

As a result, the teams have practically not earned a single dime. Yet, they had to cover all the regular costs, including payrolls, maintenance, and inventory.

Moreover, the pandemic surfaced right after the teams invested all their funds into the season. This further increased the losses incurred by the team owners.

For instance, The Scrappers, who play in Niles, Ohio, spent over 95% of their 2019 revenue to prepare for the 2020 game season. A spokesperson from the team said the investments are usually made during the winter months to prepare for the next season.

It means the investments were made long before anybody could anticipate the outbreak of a pandemic.

A few weeks into the pandemic and several minor league teams were reported applying for short-term loans. However, many of these teams were ineligible for short-term loans. The reason being, most of these teams were owned by bigger names (companies).

And for those who did receive a loan, the money hardly made much difference. Instead, it added more to the liabilities.

To further worsen the situation for minor league teams, many major league teams cut their ties with minor league players in order to cut costs. Thus, complicating the lobbying efforts even more.

The Bottom Line

Now, it’s not just a question for getting through the pandemic-induced losses. Instead, it is a matter of survival for most minor league teams.

It depends upon whether the lawmakers would look into the matter and support the game through the tough times. Or, if not, then what other options do the minor league teams have if they wish to keep the sport alive.

There is no doubt that the pandemic was horrible for almost every business, if not all. But, which ones to save and which ones to let suffer is a critical decision that our lawmakers need to make.

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