Northwest League Baseball Teams Thrown Curveball By Oregon Governor
Oregon Governor Kate Brown announced on Thursday that her state would begin to ease some of the restrictions it has been operating under over the last couple of months as part of the state’s effort to control the outbreak of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
During the same press conference, Brown also noted that sporting events scheduled to be played through September would have to be either significantly modified or canceled entirely.
“Large gatherings, including live sporting events with audiences, concerts, festivals and conventions, will not be able to return until we have a reliable treatment or prevention, like a vaccine,” Brown said. “The Oregon Health Authority is advising that any large gathering, at least through September, should either be canceled or significantly modified.”
The length of those guidelines could significantly impact the short-season Northwest League, which is slated to open its season on June 17 and play through the middle of September.
Three of the league’s eight teams—Hillsboro, Salem-Keizer and Eugene—play in Oregon, which means those teams’ home games would have to be played under serious modifications or canceled entirely.
"Our teams are planning for various scenarios that may affect our season," NWL president North Johnson said in an e-mail on Thursday.
The league also will deal with any restrictions set forth by Canada because one of its teams, the Vancouver Canadians, play their games across the border.
Either case is bad news for those teams, which generate the bulk of their revenue from putting fans in the seats. Playing games entirely without fans, then, would be an immediate non-starter for those teams affected.
Hillsboro drew an average of 3,516 fans per game last year, which is roughly 78 percent of its stadium’s capacity. Eugene drew an average of 3,460 fans per game, which accounts for 86.5 percent of a full house at PK Park. Salem-Keizer averaged 2,127 fans per game, or about 52 percent of its stadium’s capacity.
Under social-distancing measures, the three teams would likely not be able to get anywhere near those averages and would make playing games financially difficult proposition.
The Northwest League has meetings scheduled for May 13, after which point there should be more clarity about the upcoming season.
Even under normal circumstances 2020 was a potentially historic year for the NWL, which currently is one of the minors’ two short-season leagues. Under the proposed terms of the potential agreement between Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball on a new Professional Baseball Agreement, the league would move to a full-season format starting in 2021.
Two of the teams in the league—Salem-Keizer and Tri-City—have been rumored to be among the roughly 42 teams that would lose their big league affiliations.
The Northwest League’s slated Opening Day isn’t for a little more than a month but is almost certain to be delayed until the big league season gets going. Governor Brown’s announcement on Thursday added another obstacle to what was beginning to look like a very difficult road to anything resembling normalcy in the league.