WALK-OFF SEASON: The Springfield Cardinals' 2020 season at Hammons Field is canceled amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
SBJ file photo
WALK-OFF SEASON: The Springfield Cardinals' 2020 season at Hammons Field is canceled amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bye-Bye Baseball: Cardinals shift in response to canceled season

The Springfield Double-A team focuses on online creation

Posted online

Springfield Cardinals officials are hustling to soften the financial blow of a summer with no baseball and no fans at Hammons Field.

The 2020 Minor League Baseball season was officially canceled June 30, following months of delays related to the coronavirus pandemic. MiLB President and CEO Pat O’Connor said in a Twitter statement the same day that the big league clubs would not be providing players to its affiliated MiLB teams, which led to the decision.

“These are unprecedented times for our country and our organization as this is the first time in our history that we’ve had a summer without Minor League Baseball played,” tweeted O’Connor.

Springfield Cardinals officials have followed the announcement with their own statement that the financial ramifications are “very real and daunting.”

“We can’t make up that loss in revenue,” said Dan Reiter, vice president and general manager of the Springfield Cardinals. “The primary revenue stream is having fans in the ballpark. We can only try to minimize what those losses are going to be.”

Reiter declined to disclose the anticipated losses and previous year revenue.

By press time, Springfield Cardinals officials were still mulling ideas to cushion the financial impact of a canceled season. However, Reiter said the baseball organization already has begun leaning into media content creation.

“We’re working with our partners to, in some fashion, serve as a media outlet to create some fun baseball content that we know our community really wants,” he said. “We’re having to look at ourselves not just as a baseball team but as a media source for baseball … and reframe the type of business we consider ourselves.”

The baseball organization began creating content in May, when it launched its “Fly Together” show sponsored by MOST 529, Missouri’s 529 Education Plan. Andrew Buchbinder, the Double-A team’s broadcaster and public relations manager, said it started as a way to bring baseball content to fans but continue to provide exposure to the team’s existing sponsors.

The “Fly Together” show airs at 6 p.m. on Sundays via Facebook, and Buchbinder serves as host. Eight episodes were posted by press time with metrics as high as 8,700 views for one show.

The organization also is featuring show segments throughout the week in a series dubbed “Bird Bites,” sponsored by American National Insurance Co. Other sponsored content on Facebook includes “Be Well Clubhouse” videos surrounding mental health conversations with Burrell Behavioral Health and posts dubbed “Into the Vault” that highlight the history of the Springfield Cardinals, which is sponsored by the Missouri Lottery.

Buchbinder said another content series in the pipeline sponsored by American National will recognize heroes in the community. Reiter said the organization is working with each sponsor individually to evaluate what their partnership will look like this year.

“We’ve wanted to customize everything we do with our partners to see if we can be useful as a baseball media source for them, or if our relationship needs to be put on hold for a year,” he said. Reiter declined to comment on whether any sponsorships had been pulled by press time.

Chuck La Tournous, vice president of marketing, multiple line agencies at American National, said changing its sponsorship format to online content was a “no-brainer.”

“We’re very dedicated to the community here, and the Cardinals are important to that,” he said, declining to disclose details of the sponsorship. “Things look different now. We can’t do the things we did with the fans in the seats, like the giveaways we sponsored. Everything these days has shifted to a virtual reality, and we were presented with some good opportunities to continue that.”

Mercy Springfield Communities spokesperson Sonya Kullmann said in an emailed statement to Springfield Business Journal that Mercy officials are working with the local team on ways they can assist with the taxi squad this summer, adding the hospital system has no plans to pull its sponsorship.

Cardinals officials also are working with members of its Red Access Membership program, which replaced season tickets last year. Buchbinder said members have been given options to allow the organization to keep their membership fees in exchange for discounts in 2021; to roll 2020 fees to 2021; or to receive a full refund. Membership fees are $95-$635 for the season, depending on the package, according to the website.

This year’s canceled season comes after the organization faced attendance concerns when parking fees were hiked at nearby lots owned by New York-based JD Holdings LLC, according to past SBJ reporting. However, the Cardinals reached shuttle and parking deals with J. Howard Fisk Limousines Inc. and Ozarks Technical Community College, respectively, that brought fan attendance up through the end of the season.

The team’s 2019 season ended with 328,217 fans, up from 326,362 in 2018 but down from 331,269 in 2017, according to data on the Double-A Texas League’s website.

“We’re in a different situation than other Minor League teams,” said Reiter. “Other teams are looking at stadium rentals. … For us, that’s not really a possibility with the St. Louis Cardinals having their taxi squad at Hammons Field.”

Last month, the St. Louis team announced it selected Hammons Field for its so-called taxi squad, according to past SBJ reporting. A taxi squad consists of players who are not on a team’s active roster but continue to train so they can be called up as needed.

“The taxi squad is going to be here to serve as almost an entire Minor League system in one ballpark to make sure they can develop future players, and if they need to call anyone up, they have guys that are big league ready,” Reiter said. “It’s going to be really more like a spring training model.”

It was undetermined by press time if fans would be able to watch taxi squad play.

“They’re trying to create a safety bubble for their players to make sure they can stay healthy,” Reiter said of the St. Louis Cardinals. “We are going to be utilized as an extension of that bubble, so safety and health is going to be our No. 1 focus.”

Web Editor Geoff Pickle contributed.