If you can ignore the puns (Congress is going to bat for Minor League Baseball. Government is stepping up to the plate to help), the concept is solid. A bipartisan measure introduced late last month could allow affected teams to draw from $550 million in unused pandemic relief funds in order to pay the salaries of workers who might otherwise have to be let go.
And to MiLB, which was hit first by contractions (brought about by restructuring done by MLB) and then by a canceled 2020 season, that could be a lifesaver.
“Many of these teams are at risk of closing their doors if they don’t have additional assistance to make it through this crisis,” said Republican Representative David McKinley of West Virginia.
Bloomberg pointed out, “Before the pandemic, minor league teams provided 3,300 full-time and nearly 32,000 part-time or seasonal jobs, according to the lawmakers pushing the bill. Unlike their Major League counterparts, they couldn’t rely on TV advertising revenue to make up for lost ticket and concession sales during the pandemic. And in November, a judge ruled that a group of minor league teams were not eligible for insurance payouts.”
The Minor League Baseball Relief Act (pundits have nicknamed it the “relief pitcher bill”) was introduced by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), and would allow the Small Business Administration to distribute up to $15 million per team – but only after the agency determined that the money wasn’t needed for its original purpose.
To qualify, teams would have to have been active in February 2020 and lost at least 75 percent of their revenue. (According to Front Office Sports, MiLB teams lost around 90 percent of their revenue in the canceled 2020 season – so the loss of income should not be an issue).
In Virginia, which has nine (!) MiLB teams that could be eligible for funding, there has been a flurry of coverage of the measure.
The Charlottesville, Virginia NBC affiliate notes that if approved, teams could receive up to 45% of their revenues from the 2019 season to bridge the gap until the next season begins. ABC-8 in Richmond pointed out that officials say the program would be modeled after the successful Shuttered Venue Operator Grants (SVOG) program which has provided needed assistance to venues like theatres, museums, or concert halls that were forced to shut due to necessary COVID-19 safety measures.
“Baseball is not only America’s favorite pastime, bringing friends and families together; it’s also a critical economic engine for the Commonwealth,” said Democratic Senator Tim Kaine. “Teams in communities across Virginia support our local economy and create jobs. The pandemic has taken a toll on this beloved sport, and I’m proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation to help MiLB teams through this economic crisis.”
In addition, should the measure pass, there would be an opportunity for a second grant at 50 percent of the first if a club’s revenue does not recover and does not significantly exceed its 2019 total.
The way the bill is written, strict oversight will be required by SBA through documentation, review of use, and an audit on grant funding, and applies to any MiLB team previously part of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues – but not to any club that is majority-owned by Major League Baseball.
When the contraction of MiLB took place in late 2020, MLB pulled its affiliation from many clubs, bringing the total number of supported teams down from 160 to 120; information on affected clubs can be found here. Worth noting is the fact that because of the tremendous anomosity surrounding it, the contraction became known as "The Assault on Hometown Baseball."
Unfortunately, some teams, despite financial concerns, will not be eligible. Collegiate summer teams are not, for example, according to this article, which notes the Charlottesville Tom Sox can't receive funding.
Tom Sox Head Coach Kory Koehler told NBC-29 he thinks the governor should approve funding, particularly in light of the fact that players, who come from all over, stay with host families during the season (generally early June to late August).
“I think the governor could step in just to kind of evaluate where it stands, and put the Collegiate League, the Valley League up there with a minor league system and say, ‘Hey, does the Valley League need help and assistance as much as the minor league systems?’”
SDM will continue to cover this developing issue.