In November, we learned that Major League Baseball was proposing eliminating 42 teams as it continued to hash out a new Professional Baseball Agreement. The idea got immediate pushback, including from members of Congress. MLB may yet get its wish.
Both MLB and MiLB delayed the start of their regular seasons amid the COVID-19 pandemic. While MLB will lose money, it will be fine as it is a $10 billion industry. MiLB, on the other hand, might not be. Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper spoke to more than a dozen owners, GMs, and league presidents involved in minor league baseball. He wrote that there is a “near universal recognition” that some teams, estimated to be between 10 and 40, may end up folding as a result of the delayed start of the season.
While major league teams pay the salaries of their affiliated minor league players, the owners of the team are responsible for the other costs that come with running a baseball team. Peter Freund, the owner of the Memphis Redbirds (Cardinals Triple-A), said to Cooper, “The reality is it’s bad. We’re a small business. There are going to be some really hard decisions made in the next 30-60-90 days that are very uncomfortable. We are realistically looking at a situation where we may not operate this year. I can’t imagine a scenario where our season begins before June. What are the implications for all the people who work in the ballpark—the ushers, the grounds crews? It’s so upsetting. There is only so much we can do as a small business owner to keep the lights on. There are some very harsh realities.”
Like regular people, minor league teams have to worry about rent or mortgages and other expenses, all of which has become tougher with regular life grinding to a halt. And, like regular people, some minor league teams may go belly-up.
Freund said, “I’m never looking for a handout, but I think the government is a big piece of this. Our partners of MLB will have a hand in making sure that MiLB can survive. It’s somewhat ironic (considering the contentious PBA negotiations) but the reality is, we need our MLB partners. They are critical to our survival.”