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Columbus Clippers And Other Ohio Sports Teams Hope For A Mulligan In 2021

Huntington Park in downtown Columbus, home to the Clippers minor league baseball team.
Darrin McDonald
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WOSU
Huntington Park in downtown Columbus, home to the Clippers minor league baseball team.

Just how much money did the Columbus Clippers lose during 2020? “In a good year, we’ll (make) $10-12 million. Maybe we did a couple million last year,” says Ken Schacke, team president and general manager.

It’s still not clear how, or if, last year's loss of up to $10 million in revenue will be offset in 2021.

While Major League Baseball’s pandemic-shortened season got far more headlines in 2020, minor league teams like the Clippers suffered far more because they don’t have lucrative TV contracts to fall back on. Ticket sales, plus the food, beer and memorabilia that fans buy on game days, make up the overwhelming majority of the team’s revenue. And there were no fans last summer.

“We really had to reel everything in and cut all of our expenses,” Schnacke says. “We had to furlough quite a few employees. We’re still not back to any kind of normalcy, and we still have no idea what a new normal will be somewhere down the road.”

One thing is clear: the 2021 season for the Clippers and all other Triple-A minor league teams will be delayed at least one month because of changes to Major League Baseball’s spring training.

Schnacke says the Clippers being owned by Franklin County brought benefits and drawbacks.

“It hurt in that we were not eligible for any of the PPP funding because of our unique ownership, and it helped at the end because the county was successful in helping us get some of the government CARES dollars towards the end of last fall,” Schnacke says.

The Clippers also hope for some money from the federal coronavirus relief bill passed in December, which created a “shuttered venue” grant program to distribute $15 billion to live venue operators that have suffered during the pandemic.

A statue of Harold Cooper outside Huntington Park, home of the Clippers, in downtown Columbus.
Credit Darrin McDonald / WOSU
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WOSU
A statue of Harold Cooper outside Huntington Park, home of the Clippers, in downtown Columbus.

Columbus' minor league baseball team is far from alone in sports teams seeing big drops in revenue during the pandemic. While the Columbus Blue Jackets declined to detail exact losses, a team spokesman says the financial hit was “significant.”

The Blue Jackets finally brought back fans into Nationwide Arena last week, the first time they've had spectators at home in a year, and plan to expand capacity in their next game. Under updated public health orders from the Ohio Department of Health, sports and entertainment venues can reopen at 25% of indoor capacity, and 30% of outdoor capacity.

Ohio State University athletic director Gene Smith recently said he expects a deficit of around $70 million for the 2020-21 academic year.

The Columbus Crew and the Country Club at Muirfield Village, which hosted its first Memorial Tournament without fans last July, did not response to repeated requests for comment.

What lingering questions do you have about COVID-19 and Ohio's response? Ask below and WOSU may answer as part of our A Year Of COVID series.

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