What Is The Future Of Minor League Baseball Post-Coronavirus?

.John Supowitz | April 24th, 2020  

Thanks to the current pandemic, we are stuck at home binge-watching The Office and having night terrors of Joe Exotic. The one major thing we don’t have is sports. Rest assured, sports will come back, but at what capacity?

The NBA and NHL were already well into their seasons, while the NFL is still six months from kick-off, but the baseball has yet to begin in 2020.

A couple of ideas have been brought forth on how to start the season; one idea was to play the entire season in Arizona, another has the league being restructured to Cactus and Grapefruit while the teams play in their respective spring training facilities, the common denominator in these scenarios, they would play in an empty stadium.

Although baseball is a game, the MLB is a business, and just like any other business, you must think of the bottom dollar. Economically is this possible? It is, MLB would take a revenue hit, but with each team’s media rights deals and TV deals, they can make up for some of their losses.

While the big leagues could afford to, what about the minors?

There are currently 160 minor league teams that generate revenue throughout baseball. MLB has already discussed they want to begin the process of eliminating about 40 after this season. It would be realistic to say that some teams might have already played their last games.

Unlike their big-league counterparts, minor league teams do not have the luxury of media rights deals as revenue, they make the majority of their revenue through ticket sales and local advertising. 

If you’ve ever been to a minor league game, you’ll see many local ads plastered on the outfield wall, certain sections of the ballpark, and even in-game promotions. With the local businesses struggling during this time, you may not think of it this way, but in a sense, these teams are also a local business.

Minor league teams simply cannot put the money and resources into playing in an empty stadium. Even playing in less than capacity crowds could mean whether or not the club turns a profit for that season. MLB officials have already said their minor league affiliates would not be put in this situation.

In a Wall Street Journal article, the president of the Hillsboro Hops K.L. Wombacher recently commented on the financial ramifications of not having these revenue streams.

“There are a lot of teams that wouldn’t be able to survive,” 

He continues.

 “I don’t know what would happen. It would severely hurt our industry, there’s no doubt.

According to MiLB data reports, most teams earn approximately $70,000 dollars per game in revenue. About 89% of their revenue goes to their operating expenses, which goes towards paying their employees and the rent they pay to play in their home ballparks. 

Speaking of employees, many of these teams play in small towns and hire within those areas. Many of these employees are seasonal workers. They work in concessions or as ushers and rely on this job for extra income. At a time when unemployment is reaching its highest point in decades, many more could see their jobs eliminated.

Some teams have sought to file for federal assistance. Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, businesses of under 500 employees can receive as much as $10 million in loans. These loans can be forgiven entirely if that business retains its staff. The Iowa Cubs, Columbus Clippers, and Myrtle Beach Pelicans have all confirmed they will seek this option.

This is a personal matter to me: I am one of those employees. I am a member of the Game Day Production Crew for the Colorado Rockies’ Double-A affiliate Hartford Yard Goats. I, just like the fans, stay hopeful that I will be able to come back at some point this summer.

No minor league teams playing not only impacts the farm system but it is detrimental to the whole system. The major league teams rely on promoting players within their farm system for various reasons including injuries and overall needs, how do you address that?

Also, this means all the players in these systems could lose a year of service. This means a loss on a year of development and a chance to make a team somewhere else. 

There is a “Rule 5” draft, meaning if a player is not put on a 40-man roster within five seasons, he is eligible to be drafted by another team.

Before we ever hear the crack of a live bat, the MLB will need to address this issue. The impact of no minor league baseball in 2020 is something that could impact the entire season as a whole and people involved.


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Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images

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