The Chattanooga Lookouts are playing in front of crowds in excess of 4,000 at AT&T Field again, but that isn't going to remedy the financial sting of a lost 2020 season.
Congress, however, might.
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) have introduced the Minor League Baseball Relief Act, which is legislation aimed to provide emergency assistance to minor league baseball franchises that were leveled by the coronavirus outbreak.
"Tennessee is home to numerous minor league teams that have been adversely impacted due to COVID," Blackburn said in a statement. "For over 18 months, these teams have had to shut their doors to families who would have loved a night out at the ballpark. The Saving Minor League Baseball Act will ensure our local teams can keep their doors open and the Volunteer State spirit alive."
Not a single minor league game was staged last season, while the Major League Baseball schedule was reduced from 162 contests per team to just 60.
For the Lookouts, the Class AA affiliates of the Cincinnati Reds, that meant losing their 140-game schedule, with 70 of those having been set for AT&T Field. Even this year's schedule went from the traditional early April start to early May, which is providing 120 games overall and 60 in Chattanooga.
There will be no postseason as well this year in minor league baseball.
"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," Lookouts co-owner Jason Freier said. "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."
Lookouts president Rich Mozingo said Monday that the only revenue generated last season at AT&T Field resulted from sales out of the gift shop, a couple of high school baseball games and a pair of autumn concerts. Mozingo and his entire staff were furloughed on May 1, 2020, with the Lookouts receiving two rounds of assistance via the federal Paycheck Protection Program.
According to the release announcing the Minor League Baseball Relief Act, minor league franchises employed roughly 3,300 full-time employees and 32,000 part-time employees before the pandemic and this relief "would allow clubs to immediately return to full staffing levels and safeguard vital jobs in these communities."
The act would enable minor league baseball to access up to $550 million in emergency grants to be administered by the Small Business Administration (SBA) and made available through funding authorized under previous COVID-19 relief legislation that would otherwise be returned to the Treasury Department. This funding, the release continued, would only be made available to minor league baseball if it was determined there was no longer a need for its originally intended purposes and it would otherwise go unused.
The act would distribute grants up to $10 million for eligible clubs and provide an opportunity for a second grant at 50% of the first if a club's revenue does not recover and significantly exceed its 2019 total.
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