Pensacola Blue Wahoos Will Not Furlough Staff Despite Likelihood Of Canceled Season
In the early days after baseball had shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic, Pensacola Blue Wahoos owner Quint Studer gave team president Jonathan Griffith an assignment. He wanted him to sketch out the levels of employment his team might require if no season was played.
Ultimately, Griffith came up with five scenarios. The most dire would have seen the Wahoos cut their staff to just six people. With no tickets to be sold, for example, why would they have needed a group sales executive? With all their merchandise purchased for 2021, why would they need a person to run that department?
Instead, Studer decided to go a different route. He kept the group sales executives (the team employs three), and the merchandise manager, and the groundskeeper, and everyone else on staff. From the interns to Griffith himself, Studer kept them all.
People shouldn’t lose their jobs, he thought, just because there’s no baseball. That’s because Studer doesn’t view the Blue Wahoos as a baseball team. Rather, he sees them as an agent of change in the community that just happens to play baseball 70 nights a year.
“Our mission statement with the Wahoos doesn’t have baseball in it,” he said. “It says ‘Our goal is to improve the quality of life for people in the community.' ”
How would the team live up to that mantra, Studer reasoned, if the jobs for his employees—who are also members of the community—dried up because there was no baseball season? Doing so would fill all those who lost jobs with immeasurable amounts of stress, both in the immediate aftermath and for the duration of the furlough.
With the minor league season looking less likely by the day—the team acknowledged as much on Wednesday in a public statement—that furlough could last until next April. Instead, all of the employees will keep their jobs and will help keep the stadium up and running for various activities—the team made waves last month when it converted into an Airbnb—until baseball returns in 2021.
“We have people who’ve been with us a long time, so we’d hate to lay them off,” Studer said. “(One person) just had a baby. This person just bought a house. Gee, (losing their job) would really negatively impact their family, and we understand that.”
There’s also a second group of employees who haven’t worked for the Wahoos for as long. Some are interns, some are trainees and some are just in their first few years. Those people are keeping their jobs, too.
“One just got his degree from Arkansas, moved here, got an apartment, and hasn’t really gotten to work baseball, per se, and here the kid is in his first year on the job and is going to get laid off or furloughed for six months?” Studer said. “Is that going to hurt his passion? What’s that going to do?
“(Studer and his family) are fortunate that we financially don’t depend on baseball for our living, so (Studer and his wife and Wahoos co-owner, Rishy) just looked at each other and said ‘We donate money. We make investments in things like children’s hospitals, so this year let’s take some of that and put it into the ballpark and just keep the staff.' ”
The staff was informed of the decision on Monday, and some employees were so overcome that they briefly turned off the video function on their Zoom call so they could cry.
Teams across the country have already laid off and furloughed hundreds of workers, and there are likely more to come next month, once the payroll protection loans (the Blue Wahoos received one) the government issued in April expire. Once July 1 hits, however, businesses are free to make adjustments to their staff while still receiving total forgiveness on the loan.
Instead, the Blue Wahoos won’t cut anybody. Neither will the Beloit Snappers, which are also owned by the Studers. The only adjustments that will be made are pay cuts of up to 20 percent for any employees making more than $60,000 per year.
So while the team waits for baseball to return, it will have a full complement of employees helping run the Airbnb, or the movie night, or the restaurant, or anything else it can think of between now and next April.
Minor League Transactions
Transactions involving minor league players for the period June 27-July 8, 2020.
Still, there will be times without a whole lot of work to do. That’s where the team’s mission statement comes back into play. The Blue Wahoos want to help their community as best they can, so some staffers will gain a different kind of experience than they expected when they took a job in baseball.
“As long as we’ve got people, let’s keep building their skill set,” Studer said. “ ... A lot of our not-for-profits have been hit really hard and have had to have layoffs. So our thought was, for some of our people we just don’t have enough for them, which will be probably half (of the staff), so we’ll loan them out to the not-for-profits in the area.
“They’ll get a great education. If all of a sudden you’re a baseball guy and you’re working some time at a food bank or Big Brothers and Big Sisters, you’re going to see a side of life that you might not see. And I thought that would enrich them when they come back and make our community better. So Rishy and I just looked at each other and said ‘Let’s keep everyone.’ ”
In the statement released on Twitter, the team estimates it will lose about $3 million this year. That’s not a problem unique to the Blue Wahoos or the Snappers or any team in the minor leagues. The effects of the pandemic will be felt this year and in 2021, when a variety of factors will keep the revenue spigot from simply reopening. But the Wahoos will continue doing what they can to positively affect the Pensacola area as best they can until things return to normal.
“It wasn’t a quick, overnight decision,” Studer said “We went through all these scenarios to just getting to the point of saying, ‘We’re going to lose money this year. Let’s buckle up and make it as good as we can, and I think it will pay off in the long run with skill-building and the loyalty of our staff.’ ”