Baseball

Minor league baseball officially nixed for 2020 season

Baseball's minor leagues cancelled their seasons on Tuesday after Major League Baseball decided not to provide any players to its affiliated teams amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Decision comes after MLB decided not to provide players to its affiliates

Triple-A Buffalo Bisons left fielder Billy McKinney hits a double during a 2018 game. On Tuesday, baseball's minor leagues were officially cancelled after MLB decided not to provide players to its affiliates. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Baseball's minor leagues cancelled 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 which governs the minor league governing body, made the long-expected announcement.

"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 per cent of minor league 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."

WATCH | MLB implements 60-game schedule:

Major League Baseball plans to unilaterally issue a 60-game schedule for its shortest season since 1878. 1:39

The announcement means Canada's only minor league affiliated team, the Vancouver Canadians, will not play in 2020. 

On Twitter, Canadians communications director and broadcaster Rob Fai said the team will miss seeing all the familiar faces at Nat Bailey Stadium this summer. 

"Our season has officially been called off. Completely expected yet still burns to see it in print," he said.

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 US 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 theatres."

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.

"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."

Impact could extend to 2023

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."

With files from CBC News

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