A bill being introduced in the United States Senate would provide over a half-a-billion dollars in emergency relief funds to minor league baseball clubs that saw significant financial losses as part of the pandemic in 2020.
The bi-partisan bill named the Minor League Baseball Relief Act would provide up to $550 million in emergency grants to independently owned clubs through the Small Business Administration (SBA). The funds would be made available already authorized through COVID-19 authorization that would otherwise be returned to the Treasury Department. Grants to individual clubs would be as high as $10 million, with the opportunity of minor league clubs to seek an additional grant at 50% of the initial grant if a club’s revenue does not recover and significantly exceed its 2019 total.
Minor league clubs owned by Major League Baseball would not be eligible for the grants.
The bill is sponsored by U.S. Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), and Tim Kaine (D-Va.), and U.S. Representatives Doris Matsui (D-Calif.-06) and David McKinley (R-W.Va.-01).
“Minor League Baseball is a point of pride to hundreds of small cities and towns across the country,” said Representative McKinley. “Like many other small businesses in other industries, minor league clubs are struggling from the economic impact of the pandemic. Many of these teams are at risk of closing their doors if they don’t have additional assistance to make it through this crisis. This bipartisan legislation will ensure Minor League Baseball as we know it can survive and keep America’s pastime alive.”
To ensure that the funds are allocated correctly, the bill specifies that there would be government oversight by the Small Business Administration “through documentation, review of use, and an audit on grant funding, and applies to any minor league baseball team previously part of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues but not to any club that is owned by Major League Baseball.”
Unlike Major League Baseball, which played a 60-game shortened season and benefited from local and national television media rights, in 2020 the entire minor league season was canceled due to the pandemic. Planning for the 2021 season was also jeopardized due to the pandemic with Triple-A games delayed a month.
“My partner, John Woods and I, along with our dozen-plus local owners of the Chattanooga Lookouts, are incredibly thankful for Senator Blackburn’s efforts on behalf of Minor League Baseball,” said Jason Freier, owner of the Chattanooga Lookouts. “The Lookouts went nearly 620 days without being able to play a baseball game, causing us to lose more than 90% of our revenue. This has created a hole we will be digging out of for years to come. The relief effort Senator Blackburn is championing would allow us to stabilize our business, rebuild our staff and continue to serve our fans and community as the team has since 1885.”
“Minor League Baseball brings communities together, providing affordable family entertainment and job opportunities across the nation. This legislation will allow minor league teams to return to normal operation and result in saving baseball in many communities. We all appreciate Senator Blackburn’s leadership in this important effort,” said Randy Boyd, owner of Boyd Sports who owns or operates minor league teams the Tennessee Smokies, Johnson City Doughboys, Greeneville Flyboys, Kingsport Axmen, and Elizabethton River Riders. In 2020, Boyd Sports joined the Memphis Redbirds, ownership group.
Pre-pandemic, MiLB Clubs employed more than 3,300 full-time employees and nearly 32,000 part-time and seasonal employees. According to the bill sponsors additional COVID-19 relief would allow clubs to immediately return to full staffing levels and safeguard vital jobs in these communities.