Tough times ahead for Flying Squirrels, but team confident it can weather the storm

Pandemic Threatens Minor League Baseball

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - A survey completed by 68 Minor League Baseball franchises conducted by Sports Illustrated shows that there is grave concern regarding the future of the game and the landscape of the minor leagues as we know it. The MiLB season is currently delayed, with a cancellation possible, and many teams are worried about their abilities to operate given the losses of revenue.

"I would give anything to have this be a nightmare," said Todd "Parney" Parnell, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the Richmond Flying Squirrels. "I would love to wake up in the morning and know that our team is on the road tomorrow."

The Squirrels were one of the 68 teams to take part in the survey, which revealed that many front office members are concerned about their respective clubs' survival and wondering how the sport at the minor league level will recover.

"When I read that, I read it with tears in my eyes," an emotional Parney said on Wednesday. "A lot of the people who are quoted in that article are people that I've mentored."

The survey showed that half of the clubs that took part have either laid off or furloughed full-time workers. Some have left day-to-day operations to just one person. The Flying Squirrels have furloughed some employees, but have kept in consistent contact with them. The organization has also received help from the Paycheck Protection Program.

So does Parney think that the future of baseball in Richmond is in jeopardy?

"No, I think we've become too much a part of this community."

To Parney, relationships are everything, and he feels that's the biggest aspect of what will carry the Squirrels through. The 31-year minor league front office veteran is quick to point out that the team and its partners, sponsors and fans are often there to support each other through good and bad times. Many teams said that a cancelled season would result in a 95-100 percent loss of annual revenue, but for Richmond, things may not be as bleak.

"We continue to need to create revenues as much as we possibly can, and keep the revenues that we currently have, knowing that we have to give back value."

Revenue for a shortened or cancelled 2020 season can present many obstacles. Some sponsors or season ticket holders may ask for their money back, while the team may also hope to push purchased tickets and sponsorship agreements to 2021. Of course, the latter could then present a revenue shortfall for next year as well. It's all handled on a case-by-case basis, and circumstances the Flying Squirrels' front office is approaching "one hour at a time," according to Parney. The team continues to search for ways to generate revenue, provide valuable services and keep its strong commitment to the community going.

Despite all the hurdles, Parney believes that baseball will bounce back better than ever in the River City.

"The fans have made us one of the more successful teams in the country, so we're going to be able to fight our way through this, but we're a small business. Make no mistake about it. We're a small business, we're going to have our financial through this."

If the season ends up being cancelled, the loss of 70 home games will be felt, but the Flying Squirrels are confident that the fans will return the seats, the crack of the bat will be heard and the roar of the crowd will rise again.

"I know with all my heart that a year from now, two years from now, three years from now, we're going to look at this difficult, adverse situation and know that we became better because of it."

To read the full Sports Illustrated report, click here.

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