Williamsport Crosscutters’ 2020 season officially canceled
For the first time since 1993 there will be no professional baseball in Williamsport this summer after Minor League Baseball announced the cancellation of the season Tuesday. Major League Baseball informed MiLB officials yesterday it would not send any of its players to its affiliates, inevitably ending a season which never started.
Minor League Baseball has been played at Bowman Field since Paul Velte moved the Geneva Cubs to Lycoming County for the 1994 season. That ended a two-year stretch without professional baseball in the city when the Williamsport Bills moved to Binghamton.
“There’s sadness, but there’s also relief,” Crosscutters Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations Gabe Sinicropi said. “Now we have a path. There are things we have to do when there’s not going to be a season. We have hundreds of partners, hundreds of season ticket holders, all the people who have reserved seats or partnerships or group nights, and those people need answers. Now we can give them the answers and their options moving forward.”
“We were unable to find a path that allows us to play games,” Minor League Baseball President and CEO Pat O’Conner said. “I appreciate everyone feeling bad about the day, but this has been months in the coming. This is the epiphany and realization of where we are. And in a practical sense, it was the only thing to do.”
Even as Major League Baseball has begun to finalize the plans to hold a shortened season beginning at the end of this month, O’Conner said it came into focus for him over the last 10 days a minor league season was just not going to be possible. While Major League Baseball can survive without fans in the stands because of its television contracts and sponsorships which are driven by those deals, minor league teams rely on tickets sales, concessions, merchandise sales and sponsorship revenue based on attendance to account for 85-90% of its revenue.
O’Conner said government financial intervention, such as the Paycheck Protection Program, have allowed minor league clubs to stay solvent amid the COVID-19 pandemic. He said without those protections, more than half of the 160 minor league teams could struggle to survive the loss of revenue from not having a baseball season.
The Crosscutters have have utilized PPP and have had furloughs among its front office to remain as lean as possible as the novel coronavirus has caused the initial postponement and eventual cancellation of its season. The Cutters were scheduled to open the season June 19, but the New York-Penn League made an announcement on June 12 the start of the season was being postponed indefinitely.
Playing games without fans in the stands was not an option for O’Conner in his discussions with Major League Baseball. Sinicropi said a season without fans would have caused an even greater loss of money for the club, which already operates very close to breaking even every summer.
But the Cutters are also not able to offer some of the other revenue-generating alternatives other minor league clubs have rolled out this summer to offset some of its financial losses. The Lehigh Valley IronPigs have developed a makeshift golf course inside Coca-Cola Park which it charges fans to play. The Pensacola Blue Wahoos in Florida have turned their stadium into an Airbnb which fans can rent out for $1,500 a night.
With its lack of space around Bowman Field combined with the city of Williamsport’s ownership of the stadium, and Major League Baseball’s regulations for how much the playing surface can be used, options like that aren’t available to the Crosscutters to make up for some of its losses.
“The things we have done have been mainly online,” Sinicropi said. “We’ve had a much more aggressive social media presence. We’re doing things virtually we haven’t done before. And the merchandise sales have been a welcome positive during all this. I wish there were some other things we could do because we’d love to bring in some other revenue.”
Sinicropi said the organization is going to be able to weather the storm of not having a season because of the sacrifice and commitment of its ownership group, Trinity Sports Holdings, and Principal Owner Peter Freund. The group is going to take a hit for this season, but has made a commitment to bringing the team back in 2021.
The team said in a press release yesterday it plans on being back in 2021 under the umbrella of Major League Baseball despite reports which have named the Crosscutters as one of the 42 teams which could potentially be cut amid the Professional Baseball Agreement negotiations between Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball. But there is a bit of uncertainty of just what the team will look like when it returns in 2021.
The PBA between the two baseball organizations is set to expire in September. The Crosscutters’ Player Development Contract with the Philadelphia Phillies is set to expire this year.
“The short answer is yes, we’re going to be back next year,” Sinicropi said. “The long answer is I wish I knew exactly what was happening next year with our baseball team. We don’t even know when the season is going to start. We don’t know if we’re going to have 38 home games, 30, or 60 or 70. We don’t know right now. I hope we know sooner rather than later, but the pandemic has created a whole new set of obstacles to get something like that done.”