Major League Baseball’s primary source of revenue comes from broadcast rights. Unlike other major American pro sports, roughly half of that revenue is from local/regional rights. The Phillies’ local TV deal is worth about $60 million.
The Lancaster Barnstormers’ revenue from local broadcast rights? Zero.
To make money, the Barnstormers, and the Atlantic League, have to put fans in ballpark seats, and sell them hats and cotton candy and nachos and foam fingers and beer.
Which is why there will not be an Atlantic League season in 2020.
The league’s two Pennsylvania teams, Lancaster and York, have petitioned the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to allow an exception to the current limit of 250 people in one venue for live sports events.
“It doesn’t make sense for us to play with only 250 people,’’ Mike Reynolds, Lancaster's general manager, said last week.
They asked, according to sources, to be allowed to play games with as low as 25% of stadium capacity.
“The answer, I heard, was a hard no,’’ Barnstormers manager Ross Peeples said Saturday.
So the AL, or at least its Pennsylvania contingent, will scramble to get through this summer with camps and clinics and movie nights and by turning ballparks into bars and restaurants and entertainment venues.
And with, it is hoped, a little bit of baseball.
York and Lancaster are talking about a series of games with each other, an ersatz War of the Roses, in August.
If you’re wondering who will play in those games, so is Peeples, who is facing his most unique roster-build ever.
He currently has 14-15 players signed, but of course that was on the presumption of a 2020 season.
Peeples said the Barnstormers will retain the 2021 rights to those 14-15 but, “obviously, some of them are going to want to go other places,’’ at least in the short term.
Beyond that, how many players, and of what quality, would be willing to show up for a couple weeks in August? How, and how much, would they be paid? Where would they live, in a COVID-19 environment?
Given that the U.S. embassies of many foreign countries have only recently opened, and are open only by appointment to consider individual cases, would the usual AL practice of bringing players from the Dominican Republic or Venezuela — ex-Phillies and current Barnstormers shortstop Michael Martinez, for example — become too slow and confounding to even bother with?
And, the question that defines our current moment: What if somebody tests positive for the coronavirus?
Peeples sent a group email to the current players Friday, letting them know what’s going on, and getting a feel for whether they’d be interested in coming to town in August.
He hadn’t heard anything back as of Saturday.
Peeples spent some time on the phone with his York counterpart, Mark Mason. It was a good talk, but still very much at the more-questions-than-answers stage.
“He doesn’t know much either,’’ Peeples said. “He agrees with me that we’re willing to try to do anything to get some baseball.’’