Teams still uncertain on 2020 baseball
WILLIAMSPORT — Gabe Sinicropi would love to give an update on whether or not the Williamsport Crosscutters will be playing baseball this summer. But neither he, nor the rest of Minor League Baseball, knows if there will be games played this summer amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
All the Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations for the Phillies’ short-season Class A affiliate can do is wait. The Crosscutters’ staff is still working remotely even as Gov. Tom Wolf moved Lycoming County into the yellow phase of the pandemic recovery. But the staff has been busy trying to engage with fans on its social media platforms as it awaits word on whether or not there will be games at Bowman Field this summer.
“It’s frustrating because we don’t know from day to day and week to week what’s going to develop with COVID,” Sinicropi said. “We can’t say ‘things are looking better now so let’s start July 1’ because between now and July 1 there could be a change one way or another. We’re in the same position as the fans are. We sit and wait.”
What is known is that no minor league season would begin until after the Major League season begins. A week ago Major League Baseball submitted a proposal to the MLB Players’ Union with a proposed start date around the July 4 weekend with players reporting for spring training in June.
But even that proposal involves the season starting with no fans in the stands, much like the Korean Baseball Organization has done in the couple weeks since its resumed games. Even with an early July starting date for minor league baseball, the short-season Crosscutters would lose nearly 20 percent of their scheduled games. Sinicropi said a season without fans doesn’t make any sense for the Cutters.
While ticket sales, concessions and merchandise encapsulate a large portion of Major League Baseball’s revenue, it also has the benefit of television and radio contracts to create revenue. Minor league teams don’t have that luxury. It’s revenue revolves almost entirely by people walking through the turnstiles each night. And even the money the Cutters make from selling advertising in the stadium is impacted by the number of people who come to watch games.
“Our business model is fans in the ballpark,” Sinicropi said. “That’s everyone’s business model in Minor League Baseball.”
Sinicropi can’t even manage a guess as to how late the season could begin and still make sense to play the season. But it’s becoming more and more clear just a month away from the scheduled opening day of the New York-Penn League season that it won’t occur on June 19 in State College as planned.
The Cutters have even talked about what a season would look like at Bowman Field should be given the go-ahead to begin play. It would likely involve social distancing among fans in the stands, including leaving rows open between rows where fans are allowed to be seated. Initial estimates lean toward the team allowing about only 20-25 percent of its fan capacity for games, which means roughly 400-500 fans.
It would also require the team to hire more ushers to get fans into the proper seats and make sure social distancing rules were being followed by the fans in attendance. Sinicropi has even wondered if stadium workers would be required to take fans’ temperatures before they were permitted to enter the stadium.
It’s just another of the unknowns as the team awaits word from Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball on whether or not there will be a season. Sinicropi would just like an answer either way so the team can pivot and get the work done required to either prepare for baseball to be played, or adjust to there being no season at all.
“We can only do so much without knowing what’s going to happen,” Sinicropi said. “We have to guard against spending money which could be for naught. Usually right now we’re in the stretch run preparing for the season, and they’re not happening. But there’s 160 teams around the country that are in the same spot. If we do have a season, we’re going to have three to four weeks of notice before the season starts and that’s when we’ll have to get all this done.”
The loss of the entire season would have a financial impact on the Cutters, who don’t operate with large profit margins to begin with in one of the country’s smallest minor league markets. Sinicropi said he hasn’t yet had sponsors back out because of the financial ramifications of the pandemic, but there are businesses who would usually buy a sponsorship with the team that are waiting to see how everything plays out. If the season is not played, Sinicropi said it would offer a full refund to those who have already paid for their sponsorship deals.
Sinicropi said the Cutters are fortunate to have a strong ownership group in Trinity Sports Holdings, led by principal owner Peter Freund, which can withstand the financial effects of a potentially lost season.
“If there’s any way we can survive, we will. Because I know they have a great love for this team, its history and its place in the community, and they wouldn’t want to see it wither and die,” Sinicropi said. “The harsh reality is this pandemic is going to take a toll on some minor league teams. It just will. If it comes to not having a season, that’s a large burden for a team to carry.”