ST. LOUIS — After the Los Angeles Lakers last month received a $4.6 million loan from the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program, the backlash was swift. The NBA team returned the money amid criticism that a professional sports franchise valued by Forbes at $4.4 billion would utilize a program aimed at small businesses.
But for minor league sports teams, which operate in an industry where profits are slim, the approach to PPP funding has differed. In St. Louis, two minor league teams say the SBA's PPP program has been critical to their operations as seasons were suspended.
“We are exactly who this is meant for,” said Gateway Grizzlies General Manager Steve Gomric.
The Gateway Grizzlies, a member of the independent 14-team Frontier League, secured a roughly $130,000 PPP loan through Commerce Bank. The funding has been key to the team’s ability to keep its entire staff, about 10 employees, that was already employed prior to the coronavirus pandemic. The team received its PPP loan in mid-April, snagging it in the $349 billion first round of funding made available by the CARES Act
“We were one of the first to apply. We knew we would be applying for it. We were very prepared,” Gomric said.
The Gateway Grizzlies were one of many Frontier League teams to apply for PPP loans, Deputy Commissioner Steve Tahsler said. The Metro East-based league said it was ineligible itself for the SBA program because of its status as a 501-c(6) nonprofit organization. The league, which was set to start May 14, has yet to determine when its season will begin. Tahsler said the league has been conducting weekly calls with its board, general managers and executives of the other major independent baseball leagues.
For Saint Louis FC, its PPP loan has been “a vital component of our plan to maintain operations during the pandemic,” said President Patrick Barry.
The club, which plays in the USL Championship league, one tier below Major League Soccer, received a PPP loan and now is awaiting word on an Economic Injury Disaster Loan application being reviewed by the SBA. Barry did not disclose the amounts of the loans.
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