lumberKings

In this file photo, the Clinton LumberKings are pictured at NelsonCorp Stadium during the 2019 season. The 2020 Minor League Baseball season was officially cancelled on Tuesday.

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 founded in September 1901, made the long-expected announcement. The minors had never missed a season.

“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.”

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.Those teams that are to be cut includes to Clinton LumberKings.

“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.”

“We knew when the players were sent home from Spring Training that the odds of playing a full schedule were slim, but we held out hope for at least a portion of games that we could play to try to bring baseball to our fans and our community,” said LumberKings General Manager Ted Tornow in a press release issued Tuesday. “The 2020 season ended before it really began. With a worldwide pandemic grinding every-day life to a halt and the slow progression back to real life – it just made it impossible to play.”

The LumberKings had 70 home games scheduled for this season and annually host over 100 events at NelsonCorp Field. Since the delay of the season, the club had been involved with their weekly “Curbside Concessions” and more recently started hosting concerts, company outings, graduation parties, high school baseball games and batting practice for fans. The club is preparing for a Fourth of July weekend featuring a concert on Friday night and fireworks on Saturday night.

“Unfortunately it is not only the fans missing out,” Tornow said. “But we have our full-time staff and the 125 plus part-time seasonal employees that work out here that make each season enjoyable for our fans. This is a huge socio-economic loss for us and the community.”

The 2020 season marks the first summer that Clinton will be without organized baseball since 1878. Through the 1918 flu pandemic, two World Wars, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Great Depression, organized baseball has been played in Clinton for 142 years.