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Curve franchise future stable, even if 2020 season canceled

Commentary

These are the most tumultuous times minor league baseball has ever encountered during the modern era, facing not one, but two calamities at once — the threat of missing an entire season, plus the likelihood of severe contraction that will lead to extensive reshuffling of leagues.

Let me preface what I’m about to say with old adage “knock on wood,” so as if to not jinx the good news.

Here’s the good news, from a local perspective: The Curve appear to be in position to come out of all this in relatively good shape.

Not necessarily great shape. No minor league team in the country, quite honestly, will emerge from these trying times in great shape.

But all things considered, the Curve franchise, which for two decades has been one of the best in all of minor league baseball, has several things going for it that should ensure stability in the coming years.

Here’s a look at where the Curve fit into the two areas of concern:

A lost season

At this point, unfortunately, it’s becoming more and more painfully clear that minor league baseball will not be played this year. Not in the traditional sense, anyway, with cities across the country hosting games in front of stadiums filled with fans.

Some states might be ready to reopen and host fans at sporting events in a month or two, but remember, minor league baseball is a national sport. It requires massive coordination across many, many states to schedule games across leagues, and the logistics of all that seem close to impossible.

If there is a major league season — and there probably will be in some capacity — minor leaguers likely will be playing games or conducting workouts at spring training facilities in Florida and Arizona, with few or no fans in attendance.

Nothing is set in stone yet. In fact, minor league officials pretty much have been left in the dark about what to expect — good, bad or anywhere in between.

“You obviously have to prepare for the worst, as in not playing at all,” Curve general manager Derek Martin said this past week. “But we also are preparing on if it would be a shortened season, whether it’s (starting in) July, August and going into September or October.”

Planning for a minor league baseball season is a massive endeavor, with many people putting in thousands of hours of work to be prepared for whatever occurs.

The hard part for Curve staffers, and for those across minor league baseball, is simply not knowing what’s going to happen, and yet having to be prepared for anything.

“That’s the worst thing about it,” Martin said. “You can make a plan if it’s terrible news. You can make a plan if it’s good news. You can’t make a plan if you don’t have any information.

“We’re putting together all kinds of plans with no information to back it up.”

The information flow from higher ups in the baseball industry hasn’t been good. The old saying goes that “no news is good news,” but it’s already mid-May, and at this point, continuing to have no news is certainly very bad for anyone hoping there will be a minor league season this year.

OK, so what if there’s not a season? How will that impact the Curve?

First, let’s correct one misconception many people have about minor league baseball — that teams make a lot of money.

Some teams, yes, can make substantial profits. Franchises in big cities such as Sacramento and Columbus that draw a ton of fans can have annual operating incomes ranging from $4-7 million, according to Forbes surveys in recent years.

But outside the top 20 or so franchises, many in Triple-A, operating income typically drops below $1 million. That means roughly 140 teams make less than $1 million a year in profits, and in the lower tiers, teams often make less than $100,000 in profits for the season.

For many franchises around the country, having an entire season canceled will be devastating financially. They’ve already spent lots of money for the year on employee salaries and planning for the season, yet have little or no income since they can’t host games and draw fans.

The Curve’s annual profits are not known. The figure is believed to be substantially less than $1 million, but a truly accurate number is difficult to come by.

It’s pretty safe to say that the Curve make a sizable profit each year and are not among the group of teams that struggle just to get by. Regardless, the franchise has bills and employees to pay, yet barely has any income, so the business almost certainly will lose money this year.

The Curve, though, have outstanding owners in Bob and Joan Lozinak. They owned numerous McDonald’s franchises for several decades, a lucrative business that no doubt earned the Lozinak family a lot of money.

Without getting too deep into the personal finances of all this, one would expect that the Lozinaks would be able to withstand a larger business loss than many minor league owners around the country. No business owner wants to lose money — ever — and the Lozinaks are no different, but the Altoona natives view the Curve as a family business and will do what it takes to keep the team afloat, even if there is no season.

“We’re fortunate that our ownership is made up of a family because they make the staff a family, as well, and they protect us a little bit more,” Martin said.

“I think we’ve gone about everything as smart as we can, and we’re very fortunate that our ownership has been committed to us. Right now we’ve kept all of our full-time staff members in place, so as Mr. Bob and Miss Joan have told me, let’s stay positive, stay focused and be there for them.”

Contraction issue

Much more will be written about this in the coming months, but this is the nuts and bolts of how MLB’s expected contraction of 40 minor league teams could impact the Curve.

First, Altoona has a terrific ballpark in Peoples Natural Gas Field. That is a major, major plus when you’re talking about eliminating franchises. Second, Altoona is in a tremendous location. As an Eastern League team, the Curve are a four-hour drive or less away from eight opponents.

I mean, it just doesn’t get any better than that.

There’s no way to know exactly how everything will shake out when contraction does take place, but I cannot see how Altoona would be removed from the Eastern League. It is a highly successful franchise in a fantastic ballpark that is perfectly situated from a travel standpoint.

The affiliation between the Curve and Pirates is strong. There could be some new parameters going forward about how affiliates are selected, which could cause for some consternation, but it’s just hard to imagine anyone deciding to discontinue the affiliation between the Bucs and their successful farm club 100 miles away.

On the Spikes

The State College Spikes probably will not exist as a short-season club beyond this year. However, I’ve been told that the franchise will indeed be willing to move up to full season if that’s the only way it can remain viable.

So, perhaps beginning as early as next year, the Spikes could be a low-A affiliate playing a full season beginning in April and ending in September.

Cory Giger can be reached at cgiger@altoonamirror.com.

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