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One minor league is going to try to play in front of fans in July

The independent American Association issued a new schedule for 2020.

Impact Field, home of the Chicago Dogs
Al Yellon

Some friends of mine who are bleacher season ticket holders at Wrigley Field also hold season tickets for the independent Chicago Dogs, members of the American Association who play their home games at Impact Field, a 6,300-seat stadium that’s located near O’Hare Airport in Rosemont.

Early this week, they and other Dogs season-ticket holders received this email from the team:

We hope this message finds you and your family in good health. As a member of the Dogs family, we wanted to share important news with you regarding our 2020 season. After thorough consideration, the League has made the decision to postpone the start of the 2020 season from Memorial Day weekend, to our new target start date in early July. This decision was made with the health and safety of our fans, players and staff in mind. We will continue to work closely with the League and local health officials to safely bring baseball back to Impact Field this summer.

In the coming days, we will be releasing a new, 80-game schedule running from early July, through the end of September. As soon as the schedule is released, and we have determined new package dates, I will be in contact with you to review the new dates in your package. Remember, you will still enjoy Never Waste a Ticket program, so if any of the new dates don’t work for you, we can exchange them for games that do. In order to fulfill the new schedule, league officials have elected to utilize the dates originally slated for the All-Star Game. With that being said, we will be adding a complimentary game to your package this summer, and we look forward to hosting the All-Star Game at Impact Field in 2021.

Thank you for your continued support of the Chicago Dogs. We are fully focused on the health and safety of our fans, players and staff, and we look forward to the return of baseball at Impact Field.

The American Association is a 12-team league that has another team in the Chicago metro area (Gary SouthShore RailCats) and clubs in other large cities in the Midwest, including Milwaukee, St. Paul and Kansas City. There’s also a team in Canada (Winnipeg).

While it seems possible that the American Association could begin its season in early July, about five weeks later than their normal start in late May, I cannot imagine any scenario in which gatherings even the size of the capacity of Impact Field (6,300) or the other ballparks in the league, which range in capacity from 1,750 to 8,000.

We’ve discussed this elsewhere, but minor league baseball (whether affiliated ball or indy ball) is almost completely reliant on ticket sales and sponsorships for revenue. While some teams televise games, the money involved in those TV games is minimal, unlike the big-dollar television contracts for Major League Baseball and its member clubs. If minor league teams play in empty ballparks, they’re not going to make any money doing it.

We are likely to see the economy opened up to some extent over the next couple of months, with “non-essential” businesses opening and perhaps even restaurants at reduced capacity.

But crowds of 1,750 to 8,000? The Dogs averaged 3,623 per date in 2019 and the league as a whole averaged 3,082. I cannot see any way gatherings of even that size happening until 2021, when a vaccine for COVID-19 might be available.

The league issued the following statement:

The Board of Directors of the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball has postponed the start of the 2020 regular season, which was scheduled for May 19.

The American Association will aim for a start date of the season in early July. The league intends a season that will include 80 games and extend to late September. The early July timeline, along with the length of the season, is subject to the ability to hold games in home markets while abiding by federal, state, provincial governments laws and municipal health orders and guidelines.

“The American Association looks forward to the day when we can safely re-open our stadiums to our fans and provide entertainment and social interaction,” said American Association Commissioner Joshua Schaub. “However, we will not jeopardize the safety of our fans, staff, players, umpires or vendors and will abide by all national and local restrictions when determining if we can open in early July.”

So the league acknowledges the difficulties involved in putting on baseball games in front of fans this year. A Seton Hall University poll conducted earlier this month indicated a large majority of respondents wouldn’t feel comfortable going to a sports event until there is a COVID-19 vaccine:

Asked what they would do if the leagues resumed play before the development of a vaccine, 72 percent of Americans said they would not attend games, with 12 percent saying they would if social distancing could be maintained. Only 13 percent said they would feel safe attending as in the past. Among sports fans the number drops to a still significant 61 percent.

My friend Judy Caldow, who is a Cubs bleacher season ticket holder and also holds a partial season ticket to the Chicago Dogs, told me:

I was so looking forward to baseball! This is the longest I have gone without baseball since 1963. It is really sinking in that I may not see baseball this season. Besides baseball, I truly miss my ballpark family. I keep thinking about that last game at Wrigley last year, even though the weather was bad people stayed because it was the last game. Little did we know.

All of us miss baseball. I continue to hope that we will see some sort of MLB season, likely in empty ballparks.