Culture

Minor League Baseball Must Survive

Our national pastime shouldn't suffer a devastating hit from the coronavirus shutdown.

Harold Hutchison · Apr. 9, 2020

The loss of sports has been one of the things felt very keenly during the fight against the Wuhan coronavirus. One thing many Americans forget, though, is that in one aspect, professional sports could be feeling the same pinch as many small businesses.

Specifically, minor league baseball could be in serious trouble. According to a report by Forbes, a number of professional teams tied to Major League Baseball organizations face permanent closure. That would be a profound loss for baseball — because baseball’s future literally plays out on the fields of the minor leagues — and for the country as a whole.

Yet it should not be a surprise. Contrary to what you might think, most minor-league clubs are independently owned entities that affiliate with an MLB team. The fact is though, while the major-league club provides the players, just about everything else in terms of expenses falls on those who own the minor-league teams.

Minor-league teams don’t exactly roll in piles of money, either. Unlike big-league teams, minor-league clubs don’t have huge amounts of income from television and radio. The vast majority of the money they earn comes from the fans who actually come to the ballpark. They have few full-time employees; many work through the baseball season and do other jobs to earn a living.

Because of the pandemic, that revenue is greatly reduced this year, even assuming they play ball again this season. This places many minor-league teams on the brink of permanently closing. Now, in the wake of contentious negotiations over the future of the minors, which included a proposal to contract 42 minor-league teams, Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred might be smiling. He shouldn’t.

Baseball has a big advantage over other sports — the minor leagues make it accessible to many American families. Consider that to catch an MLB game, a family of four might have to shell out a few hundred dollars for tickets, food, souvenirs, and parking. If they’re not close to the stadium, they may also have to budget lodging and travel expenses. But minor-league games are not nearly as expensive.

Losing the minor leagues could be a major blow to baseball. Perhaps the next phase of relief for the pandemic should make sure no minor-league teams fold. Baseball has long been the American pastime (the NFL notwithstanding), and one of the biggest reasons has been the accessibility of the minor leagues.

It’s bad enough that the United States had to damage its own economy by shutting down due to the People’s Republic of China covering up an outbreak that became a pandemic. Our national pastime shouldn’t suffer a devastating hit in the process and make things worse. It’s not just about the money or the jobs. Losing baseball would be losing a huge piece of America’s soul.

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