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Atlantic League intends to play season when allowed, but won't play without fans at games

ROB ROSE
717-505-5418/@robrosesports
  • The Atlantic League announced it intends to play its 2020 season.
  • President Rick White said the league won't play if fans can't attend games.
  • The Revs will air classic games on WOYK and Facebook during the hiatus.
PeoplesBank Park, home of the York Revolution, is shown before the 2018 home opener for the Atlantic League team. The Revs' 2020 season was slated to start Thursday, while the team's home opener was set for May 8. Those games will not be played as scheduled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is uncertain, when, or if, the 2020 Atlantic League season will be held. YORK DISPATCH FILE PHOTO
Rick White

On the day that was originally set for the 2020 season openers, Atlantic League president Rick White released a statement Thursday indicating that the league still intends to begin its season — once given the go-ahead from health officials that it's safe to resume play.

The league season is on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a phone interview Wednesday, White said that the Atlantic League had no plans to consider games being played at a neutral site. Also, if games can't be played with fans in attendance, White said the 2020 season would likely be canceled.

“The fact of the matter is, in our league and virtually every baseball minor league, attendance is so important to revenue generation that without in-person attendance we would be in a dramatic loss position if we elected to continue the season,” White said. “So we need, notwithstanding social distancing, we need to be able to have people personally observing our games on site in order to have a viable economic model. We just don’t have the moving image or broadcast revenues that we can capitalize on to play a season without fans in the seats.”

The statement by White and the Atlantic League on Thursday follows comments made on Wednesday by Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the leading medical expert on President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force, that it will be very difficult for sports to return this year, especially with fans in attendance. 

“I would love to be able to have all sports back,” Fauci told the New York Times. “But as a health official and a physician and a scientist, I have to say, right now, when you look at the country, we’re not ready for that yet.”

White added that it would be unlikely that the season could be played without clearance for fans to attend games in all of the league’s seven cities to start play. Most of the teams are located in Maryland, New York, New Jersey, North Carolina and Pennsylvania are able to travel by bus for games. The Sugar Land club, however, located in Texas requires flights to and from the state to complete contests.

Some bright spots: While the Atlantic League doesn’t have the advantages of the MLB in terms of potential broadcast revenue while playing at neutral sites without fans, White and York Revolution president Eric Menzer said that their players could report to team facilities, be appropriately tested and be ready to play in 10 to 14 days.

Fans enter PeoplesBank Park for the 2018 York Revolution season opener. It's uncertain when, or if, a similar scene will occur in York.

Despite the consistent stance from health experts that large gatherings with fans are unlikely this year, White has seen a few bright spots recently that have him optimistic that an Atlantic League season can still happen. In Pennsylvania, for instance, Gov. Tom Wolf gave the OK earlier this week for golf courses, marinas and private campsites to reopen Friday. 

“Over the last week we have seen some modestly encouraging signaling going on across the country,” White said. “That doesn’t mean we are readying to start spring training next week, but it does mean that we have seen some glimmers of hope here in the last few days that gives us some reason for encouragement.”

Revs airing classics: As it is, the Revs' original April 30 opening day and May 8 home opener will pass without the chance for fans to watch the team play.

The organization, however, has launched an effort to bring baseball to fans who desire it.

York will air classic games on WOYK (1350 AM) Wednesday and Thursday evenings at 7 p.m. and broadcast games on Facebook Tuesday and Thursday evenings. Menzer also said that the team has something in the works for its fans for the May 8 version of the scheduled home opener, but could not reveal details at this time.

Wait and see: While the league and its teams work on efforts to keep sponsors and fans happy during an uncertain time, the only option they have is to prepare for a potential season with fans in the stands, until they are told that won’t happen. White knows it’s out of his hands. While the league doesn’t know when or if it will be able to return, its efforts continue to prepare for a season until an authority or the pandemic tells it otherwise.

York Revolution players line up at PeopleBank Park before the 2018 season opener. It's unknown when the Revs might start the 2020 season, or if there will be a season.

“We’re going to play until we decide we’re not going to play,” White said. “There are so many variables in such a rapidly evolving environment. Our fate is going to be decided by government and medical officials, not by our board of directors. Once they set that decision, if they set that decision, then we will determine how we ratchet back up our club activities and start to play.” 

Reach Rob Rose at rrose@yorkdispatch.com.

York Revolution president Eric Menzer.