NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — First Horizon Park stands empty on the edge of the Germantown neighborhood in Nashville. The home of the Nashville Sounds, like all other stadiums around the country, is waiting for the shutdowns that have brought sports to a halt, due to the spread of the coronavirus, to end.
On Tuesday Major League Baseball presented the Players' Union its proposal to begin the 2020 season with an 82-game schedule in early July. As the big leagues make progress on a return to play plan, Minor League Baseball executives remain hopeful they will be able to have a season as well.
“I’m confident and extremely optimistic about the opportunity to host baseball again,” Sounds General Manager Adam Nuse declared in an interview on Newschannel 5+ Sportsline Monday night.
That’s especially the feeling around the Nashville Sounds. The team has been preparing for contingencies ever since the spread of the coronavirus delayed the start of the season scheduled to begin in early April. Now with the city of Nashville reopening, the team sees an opportunity to help sports return to a city starving for action.
But a return to play in the minors won’t be without challenges. While the MLB can rely on mega-television contracts for revenue even if games have to be played in empty stadiums, the minors don’t have that luxury. Nuse says teams like the Sounds operate on revenue generated almost solely on fans buying tickets and spending money in the ballpark.
“It would be a huge money loss [to play without fans],” Nuse said. “It just doesn’t make sense from a business standpoint. But from a fan’s standpoint, we might look to cut a deal with a local TV station. It’s not going to make us a lot of money, but it would bring baseball and some normalcy back.”
A lost season could spell disaster for several minor league organizations. Major League Baseball, which is in the process of renegotiating its 20-year agreement with Minor League Baseball, was already expected to contract as many as 40 affiliate clubs due to poor financial performance and bad facilities.
Nuse says other minor league teams in Tennessee, specifically in the rookie or Appalachian leagues, could feel the brunt of that decision, but that the AAA-Sounds are positioned well. The team drew over 1 million fans last season and have one of the best ballparks in all of the minors.
But Nuse remains hopeful that fans will be able to enjoy their hot dogs and cokes while watching baseball in person this summer in Nashville and elsewhere. He says the Sounds have been in constant communication with baseball and health officials, and thinks the prospects of having at least some fans in the stands by July isn’t entirely out of the question.
“We’re just trying to figure out, if all the stars could align, when can we have actual games at the ballpark,” Nuse said. “Our hope is if this July Fourth works for MLB, it fits really well with Mayor Cooper’s four phases that he put together, that by that point July Fourth could be a reality.”
While Major League Baseball’s Independence Day target date seemingly remains a longshot for the minors, the Sounds are determined to play this season.
The team drew more than 1 million fans to the ballpark in 2019, and Nuse says they’re willing to be flexible to get players back on the field and fans back in the seats this year. He says more regionalized opponents to limit travel, a condensed schedule, or even a schedule that moves into the fall months are all on the table if it means games can be played.
“We talked about even eliminating playoffs, and just playing games all through September,” Nuse said. “That would be a unique way to play without having a playoff and that trophy to play for at the end of the season, but if it gets players back on the field that’s ultimately what we’re here to do is to get players that opportunity to get in and play some games. I think if that all magically happened that would be a huge accomplishment and we’d all be pretty happy with that.”