As we enter 2022, the Covid-19 pandemic is still surging with the new Omicron variant. Businesses of all types have taken substantial financial hits throughout the pandemic, specifically hotels, fitness clubs, tour bus companies and minor league baseball clubs – all of which are seeking billions of dollars in new Covid-19 relief aid. These businesses are claiming the Omicron variant is forcing companies to scale back or shut down operations as employees call in sick and customers are not purchasing their products or services. One of these businesses that is often overlooked by everyone is minor league baseball teams.
Minor league baseball clubs face much more dire circumstances than teams that fall under the Major League Baseball (MLB) title. While the major professional sports teams and leagues were able to salvage partial seasons and accumulate revenue through broadcast rights, that was not the case for many minor league clubs. Jason Freier, the owner of the Chattanooga Lookouts (a Double-A baseball team) said the 2020 pandemic riddled season forced him to bench roughly 300 seasonal and part-time employees, as well as furlough all front-office employees except the team president. The team had a shortened season in 2021 with attendance restrictions, leading to a 20% revenue decrease from 2019 (the last season prior to the pandemic).
Rochester Red Wings owner Naomi Silver stated what saved them was money from the Payroll Protection Plan. Money from government funding was the only thing allowing the Red Wings to keep their core staff. She went onto say “every independently owned Minor League team suffered enormous losses that they have gotten through, but not without long-term consequences. The Red Wings (and presumably other independently owned Minor League teams) have been forced to make unsustainable expense cuts such as less full-time hires, no stadium improvements, and deferred purchases of new equipment. Mrs. Silver stated plain and simple, “Minor League teams need the same type of aid arts organizations and restaurants were provided in prior relief bills.” She went onto say “MLB is assisting in Minor League Teams’ efforts to receive funding, as they understand its importance and what it could mean if teams don’t get the help they need. Not all of us will survive.”
Another fascinating aspect Mrs. Silver brought to my attention, and one many people may not realize, is that in each of the Minor League towns which have been impacted by the absence of the 2020 season and vastly reduced operations in ’21 and ’22 has led to teams’ inability to support local nonprofits the way they normally would have. These teams have been unable to make purchases from local food providers, there have been no team hotel and restaurant expenditures, and teams collectively have lost between 300-500 part-time/seasonal employment opportunities. Mrs. Silver made it very clear these teams need funding to get back on track.
Minor league baseball clubs are asking for the same relief provided to other small businesses that have been decimated by the pandemic. Mr. Freier worked with Senator Blackburn of Tennessee to develop a bill advocating for $550 million in aid to minor league clubs not owned by Major League Baseball teams. Some owners have player development contracts or working agreements with their minor league affiliates, as opposed to owning them. Even though MLB teams always own the rights to the players and coaches in their respective minor league systems, there are many aspects of their operations that are outsourced. Even though $550 million is a substantial amount, it is clear minor league baseball clubs are still struggling to remain afloat during all of this.
Minor league sports teams are just one of many business sectors that are in desperate need of aid. The rebuttal for more spending is the concern over increased inflation. Senator Rand Paul was quoted saying “this unprecedented accumulation of debt is causing today’s inflation and will continue to wreak havoc in the future.” On the other hand, those seeking aid contend they were left out of previous relief efforts or did not get nearly enough to cover losses. It is unclear whether there is a right or wrong approach to handling this. The Covid-19 pandemic has created immense amounts of struggle for individual people and businesses, and no one has the “right” answer on how to fix it. The only thing we do know is that the pandemic will create change and impact that will be forever lasting. Given that MLB has disaffiliated 43 MiLB teams over the past year, and the ramifications of the Covid-19 pandemic, we must be hopeful these impacts are not so fatal to so many of the grassroots teams Americans love and cherish.