WASHINGTON (AP) – Firing 17 people in Charlotte Checkers’ front office at 25 felt like clearing a team …
WASHINGTON (AP) – Dismissing 17 people in Charlotte Checkers’ front office of 25 felt like clearing a team for Chief Operating Officer Tera Black.
“The front desk is a team as much as the team on the ice,” she said. “We never want to go through that again.”
Similar scenes unfolded throughout the rest of the American Hockey League along with the ECHL, Southern Professional Hockey League, and all levels of minor league baseball during the pandemic. Two years back and countless jobs and millions of dollars lost, over a hundred minor league baseball teams and more than a dozen minor league hockey teams are finally hoping to receive some COVID-19 relief from the U.S. government along with restaurants, gyms and other industries. hit by the pandemic after being left out of the first round of small business grants.
“Everyone in our situation really deserves and needs some of this relief,” said Jason Frier, president and CEO of Hardball Capital, which owns and operates minor league baseball teams in Columbia, South Carolina; Chattanooga, Tennessee and Fort Wayne, Indiana. “It would help break this kind of vicious circle we are in and allow us to make the investments we need to get back on our feet.”
Unlike large professional sports leagues, which could play matches in empty stadiums and arenas thanks to TV and streaming revenues, the minors are almost exclusively dependent on attendance to stay afloat. A Minor League Baseball survey showed that the average team lost over 91% of revenue from pre-pandemic levels – a result of the cancellation of the entire 2020 season – and the AHL reported that revenue throughout the league fell 85-95 % compared to its last full season in 2018-19.
Not all teams were hit so hard, and those owned by Major League Baseball or National Hockey League affiliates are not eligible for this relief, which could come through Congress as soon as next week as part of big budget bills . Only a handful of Minor League Baseball teams are owned by MLB franchises, while 21 of 31 in the AHL are owned by NHL teams.
Those who are independently owned should show at least 50% loss in revenue – and the vast majority are far beyond this mark.
“We have lost millions of dollars in this process,” said Syracuse Crunch President and CEO Howard Dolgon, who estimated about 80% loss of revenue and 50% staff depletion for his AHL club. “This is beyond anything anyone could have prepared for.… I do not think anyone could realistically have foreseen how devastating this turned out to be.”
Charlotte, Syracuse, Lehigh Valley, Springfield, and Milwaukee were the AHL teams participating in this COVID-19 relief effort. They teamed up with five members each from the ECHL and SPHL and the Minor League Baseball Coalition to hire law firm Akin Gump for help promoting legislation that could also help members of smaller independent leagues.
After cautious optimism earlier this year, AHL President and CEO Scott Howson now said, “We’re trying to get it to the finish line.” The relief could mean about $ 500 million spread across the smaller league teams involved.
“It’s definitely necessary,” Howson said. “It is necessary.”
Experts have mixed feelings about further state support so far into the pandemic, but there is no discussion about how deep a hole minor league sports should dig out, given the economic consequences of playing in front of limited or no fans.
“They lost their shirts during the pandemic because they have no media sting revenue,” said Smith College economics professor Andrew Zimbalist. “The minor league owners have a quarrel. They are small businesses. They employ a lot of people in the community.”
Leader of the minor leagues said the cost is about 15-20% higher now than before the pandemic due to inflation. Syracuse University sports analysis professor Rodney Paul wonders if there is an opportunity caused by inflation for smaller leagues to start thriving again as a more affordable alternative.
“In a situation like we’re in high inflation and people may not have the money to do a lot of things, minor league sports could offer a very good way for an enjoyable evening, an enjoyable afternoon for people, for families, friends at a pretty low price, ”Paul said.
But not if the experience is secondary. Frier said staff and other budget cuts have made it harder to make a good show for fans who pay to attend, adding that COVID-19 money could go to everything from hiring more people to paying off on debt and repair stadiums and arenas.
“The unfortunate thing is that when you try to run a venue with fewer people, fans get a less good experience,” he said. “You have fewer open concession stands and longer lines, and that leads to people not getting such a good experience, and you get into this negative cycle. But until you are in a cash position where you can afford to make all the investment you need is a tough thing and that’s why we’re looking for this relief. ”
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