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As MLB tries to save 2020, minor-league teams across the country might be out at home

Jeff Wilson, Fort Worth Star-Telegram on

Published in Baseball

As the 30 MLB team owners and the players union bicker over how to divvy up the revenue in a potential 2020 season, at least they are projecting to have some cash hitting the books.

Ticket revenue and concessions accounted for 30-40% of the $10.7 billion MLB made last season, and teams won't have that this season. But revenue of local TV contracts, even if prorated, and the windfall from the national TV deal, especially the postseason piece, remain as revenue streams.

The owners of minor-league teams, however, have almost no revenue streams beyond the turnstiles and concession and souvenir stands. More than 160 revenue-generating affiliated clubs in North America have invested in the 2020 season over the winter, and are now wondering if they will get any return.

If fans can't attend their ballparks because of the threat of COVID-19, the clubs would rather not have a season. Ballparks sat empty across the country this Memorial Day weekend, often a solid money-making date for minor-league teams.

One of them is the Texas Rangers' Double A affiliate, the Frisco RoughRiders, one of the most valuable franchises in minor-league baseball. But there isn't one minor-league franchise, no matter how successful in past seasons, than isn't hurting amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"It's indescribably challenging," Frisco general partner/CEO Chuck Greenberg said. "We go through the entire offseason incurring expenses, paying our staff and making various investments in anticipation of the upcoming season. Under any circumstances it would be difficult, but the timing (to suspend the season so close to the start of season) made it far more acutely so."

 

Minor-league teams don't control who plays for them or who their coaches are, and they don't pay their salaries or for their equipment. But MLB organizations don't pay to operate the games, unless they own their affiliates.

The Rangers own High A Down East and Low A Hickory, but Triple A Nashville and Short-Season A Spokane are independently owned along with Frisco.

Also hanging over some minor-league franchises is MLB's plan to reportedly contract 42 affiliates. The short-season teams will take the brunt of that, and Greenberg owns the short-season State College Spikes in the New York-Penn League.

The goal of contracting to four affiliates for each team, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said, is to ensure quality facilities for players, reduce travel and help minimize costs. MLB and Minor League Baseball have floated the idea of giving contracted franchises a chance to operate teams in leagues for undrafted players or minor-league free agents.

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