Skip to main content
You have permission to edit this article.
'There were just too many obstacles to overcome': Baseball's minor leagues cancel 2020 seasons
alert top story
Minor League Baseball

'There were just too many obstacles to overcome': Baseball's minor leagues cancel 2020 seasons

  • 0
040219_Senators Media Day Lunch D4S_9309.JPG (copy)

The 2020 Harrisburg Senators season is canceled, as is all minor league baseball action, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

NEW YORK — Baseball’s minor leagues canceled their seasons Tuesday because of the coronavirus pandemic, and the head of their governing body said more than half of the 160 teams were in danger of failing without government assistance or private equity injections.

The National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues, the minor league governing body, made the long-expected announcement.

“We are a fans-in-the-stands business. We don’t have national TV revenues,” National Association president Pat O’Conner said during a digital news conference. “There was a conversation at one point: Well, can we play without fans? And that was one of the shortest conversations in the last six months. It just doesn’t make any sense.”

O’Conner estimated 85-90% of revenue was related to ticket money, concessions, parking and ballpark advertising. The minors drew 41.5 million fans last year for 176 teams in 15 leagues, averaging 4,044 fans per game.

MLB teams are planning for a 60-game regular season and most of their revenue will derive from broadcast money.

“I had a conversation with the commissioner, and we weren’t unable to find a path that allowed us to play games,” O’Conner said. “It wasn’t an acrimonious decision on our part.”

That also means no baseball at FNB Field at City Island this year. The Harrisburg Senators were coming off a playoff season in 2019, and their major league affiliate, the Washington Nationals, won the World Series.

“In the end, there were just too many obstacles to overcome,” Harrisburg Senators team president Kevin Kulp said in a statement sent out by the team. “The safety of our players, fans, and staff is of the utmost concern and ultimately Minor League Baseball decided to cancel the 2020 season. We’re very sad about this news and there will be many hurdles to overcome between now and Opening Day 2021 next April. However, I assure you, the Harrisburg Senators will persevere and be ready for next season. We are proud of the role we play in the Central Pennsylvania community and from this day forward we will be working to make the 2021 season very special.”

'The situation sucks': Harrisburg Senators players trying to maneuver coronavirus delay with dwindling options

Support Local Journalism

Your membership makes our reporting possible.
Pro baseball: Local grads in minors, independent leagues staying busy, optimistic as they await 2020 season's fate

O’Conner said many minor league teams had received money through the federal Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act.

“That was a Band-Aid on a hemorrhaging industry,” he said. “Many of our clubs have gone through one, two, maybe three rounds of furloughs. In our office here, we’ve had varying levels of pay cuts between senior management, staff, and we’ve furloughed some individuals, as well, and are just about to enter in a second round of furloughs.”

He hopes for passage of H.R. 7023, which would provide $1 billion in 15-year federal loans from the Federal Reserve to businesses that had 2019 revenue of $35 million or less and “have contractual obligations for making lease, rent, or bond payments for publicly owned sports facilities, museums, and community theaters.”

In addition, the Professional Baseball Agreement between the majors and minors expires Sept.. 30, and MLB has proposed reducing the minimum affiliates from 160 to 120.

“There’s no question that what the pandemic has done is made us somewhat weaker economically,” O’Conner said. “I don’t think it’s challenged our resolve. I don’t think it’s impacted our desire to stick together and get a good deal.”

There have not been substantive talks for about six weeks.

“There are very many teams that are not liquid, not solvent, not able to proceed under normal circumstances, and these are anything but normal circumstances given the PBA and the uncertainty of the future for some of these ballclubs,” O’Conner said. “So I think the coronavirus has really cut into many clubs’ ability to make it. And I think that we’re looking at without some government intervention, without doing something to take on equity partners, you might be looking at half of the 160 who are going to have serious problems.”

MLB already has told clubs to retain expanded 60-player pools, of which 30 players can be active during the first two weeks of the season starting in late July.

Conner said the financial impact of the pathogen might extend until 2023.

“As serious as the threat from Major League Baseball was,” O’Conner said, “this threat from the coronavirus, it transcends any list that anybody wants to make with respect to the possibility of teams not being around in the future.”

Concerned about COVID-19?

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.

Related to this story

Most Popular

Get up-to-the-minute news sent straight to your device.


News Alerts

Breaking News