Yesterday, I spent some tine talking about MLB and its less-than-fully-successful health and safety protocol. Down in the minor leagues, there is no such thing as a baseball season; minor league teams are shut down and are hoping to find ways to survive until a “normal” baseball season returns in 2021. I was reminded of that “survival effort” recently when I received an email from the Pawtucket Red Sox offering me the opportunity to purchase $50 or more of PawSox apparel or novelties with the enticement that orders of $50 or more would get me a free replica of McCoy Stadium – the Paw Sox home field. I chose not to place an order.
That offer reminded me that I have received several emails from the Altoona Curve this season telling me about events they are holding online and socially-distanced at their park such as Trivia Night and a regularly scheduled local farmers’ market. In addition, the Curve has a sponsorship with a local business to recognize health workers in the area for their efforts in dealing with COVID-19.
Another email from the Richmond Flying Squirrels informed me that I can go to the stadium for a movie night. The team has transformed its field, The Diamond, to an outdoor movie theater
I have read reports that other minor league teams took the opportunity to covert their fields into 9-hole golf courses once they knew that this season was kaput. The Portland Sea Dogs were one of those teams and you can now play a round in their stadium for $30. The Pensacola Blue Wahoos have listed their park as an “Airbnb” for an overnight stay and use of the field and the batting cages. Evidently, that has generated some interest such that the Blue Wahoos have now added a disc-golf course to that field for its guests. The Columbia Fireflies have fashioned an outdoor restaurant in their park that allows for socially-distanced dining.
I mention these examples to demonstrate that minor league teams are dealing with a scenario that is more desperate than MLB teams. MLB teams still bring in some not-so-insignificant revenues from sponsorships and media rights; minor league teams do not have those revenues to start with; minor league teams survive with a few meager local sponsorships and with revenue from the live gate and concessions. For that reason, minor league teams have always been highly creative with their promotions and many of those teams are putting that creativity to work in 2020 hoping to make it through to 2021.
The first time I attended a minor league baseball game was in the early 1970s; I was on a business trip to Appleton, WI for several days and read in the local paper about a game one night for the Appleton Foxes. With nothing better to do, I went to the game and had a great time for about $10. I was hooked – – and went back the next night to see another game. The early part of my career took me to a lot of “micropolitan areas” in the US where minor league baseball was a fundamental part of the community and I partook of many games around the country in those times. Even now in a normal season, I try to see several minor league games because I find the fan experience there to be more enjoyable than the fan experience at an MLB game. [Note: I did NOT say the games are better; there is a clear and obvious diminution of talent on display in a minor league game.]
Just in case I have not been sufficiently clear, I am rooting for minor league baseball to survive this financial drought and make it back vigorously in 2021…
Turning attention now to “minor league football”, the XFL was sold earlier this week to a consortium featuring The Rock. Interestingly, The Rock began his journey to celebrity status as a pro ‘rassler in WWE; he purchased the XFL from Vince McMahon who is the major domo of WWE. The sale price for the league was reported to be $15M. The XFL returned to the field in February of 2020 and ceased on-field operations soon after that. The league filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy action with the intention of reorganizing its finances and trying a return to the field in 2021 or maybe even 2022. Any public statements proffered at the time of such events need to be taken with a gain of salt but there was one part of The Rock’s statement that caught my eye:
“With pride and gratitude for all that I’ve built with my own two hands, I plan to apply these callouses to the XFL, and look forward to creating something special for the players, fans, and everyone involved for the love of football.”
Might it be that The Rock will be part of the presentation of the games themselves? Pro ‘rasslers are comfortable behind a microphone in attempts to generate interest in their spectacles; movie actors are comfortable in front of audiences. The Rock has more than a little bit of “star-power” and that might be a valuable intangible asset for what will have to be known as XFL 3.0.
This transaction requires the approval/assent of the bankruptcy court overseeing the restructuring of the XFL as an entity. In the original filing the league said it had assets worth about $10M and liabilities of about $50M. Those “unsecured creditors” who make up much of that $50M liability for the league protest that the price here is well below “market value” and have objected to its approval. I know nothing about bankruptcy proceedings, but it seems to me that if something is openly put up for sale and the highest bidder for it is $15M, that sets the “market value”. But what do I know…?
There is a story out there regarding the football team and the athletic department at Colorado State that has the potential to be more than important. According to the Washington Post the university president has promised an investigation into allegations that football players were “discouraged” from being tested for COVID-19 and that the team was purposely violating the NCAA COVID-19 procedures and quarantines. I must point out right here that there has been pushback to these allegations from other football players. This is a fluid situation; I am not comfortable that we have nearly all the facts in hand today.
Notwithstanding the lack of certainty as to what has happened and is happening at Colorado State, let me list here the prominent allegations:
- Players were told not to report symptoms that might be associated with COVID-19.
- Players were threatened with reduced playing time if they went into quarantine.
- Unnamed individuals at Colorado State were altering the contact tracing reports to minimize possible exposures to the team.
This bears repeating; I have no idea whatsoever if any or all of those allegations have any basis in reality. However, if they are true, then an awful lot of people need to lose their jobs and every one of them needs to get one of those NCAA show cause orders to make them difficult to hire in the collegiate sports business area for the next decade or so. These allegations are not at the same level of wickedness as slipping a few thousand dollars to an athlete’s family under the table. This action potentially jeopardizes the short-term and the long-term health of the players and the people who come in contact with players. Hiding symptoms and falsifying tracing reports would not be “accidental” nor would they be “harmless”.
Pay attention to the upcoming chapters in this story; it just might be a blockbuster – – or a gigantic fizzle.
Finally, here is a positive observation about the sporting world today from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:
“Up front: It’s unclear what other NFL teams have decided, or whether a league-wide mandate is forthcoming, but the Steelers just announced that for games played at Heinz Field even under reduced capacity rules and with social distancing, patrons will be required to wear masks. A high-five to the Steelers for not masking their intentions.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………