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'There’s so many unknowns': How the Cardinals are navigating a world without baseball

DeWitt III said the focus of most MLB clubs so far has been on ensuring safety of staff and understanding the financial implication of the suspension in play
Credit: SLBJ

ST. LOUIS — The St. Louis Cardinals were supposed to be in Texas on Monday. An exhibition game against the Texas Rangers at the newly built Globe Life Field was on the schedule.

But that game was canceled as Major League Baseball halted spring training and pushed back opening day amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, MLB won’t begin its 2020 season until at least mid-May. The situation creates uncertainty for the Cardinals.

“It’s definitely nothing we’ve seen before,” Cardinals President Bill DeWitt III said. “I think probably most business leaders could tell you the same thing, just because of the far reaching nature of it, the fact that it’s global and the fact that there are so many unknowns in regards to how and when things will get resumed."

DeWitt III said the focus of most MLB clubs so far has been on ensuring safety of staff and understanding the financial implication of the suspension in play. Now, clubs are looking at how cancellations might impact "ticketing and other kind of details of the business,” he said.

The team said it has not had any COVID-19 health issues reported by staff or players. And while it's uncertain when baseball might return, DeWitt said he believes sport will serve as a “much needed symbol of getting back to normal" when the pandemic subsides.

“I fully expect that baseball will be ... that statement when we’re on the other side of this thing that we’re going to get back to the ways things were and we’re going to celebrate what we had,” he said.

The Business Journal on Monday spoke with DeWitt III about the Cardinals' current operations. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

From the financial side, what is your biggest concern today? There’s so many unknowns. If you miss large chunks of revenue, what are the ways in which you can make that up on the expense side? Obviously, player salaries is the $64,000 question. That’s a comically low number to use as a way of making that point. There’s a lot of discussion. The MLB Commissioner’s office is in discussions with the players' association on trying to work out a framework for dealing with it. 

Have you done internal projections to see what the worst-case scenario might be and what it might mean for revenue? We’ve done that. We’ve done scenario planning — losing 10%, 20%, 30%, that kind of thing. We’ve all done that. Those kinds of planning exercises are going on throughout the league and MLB is using those collectively to go into these larger discussions with the players' association and other matters. 

Is this having any impact on the remaining construction as part of Ballpark Village's phase II expansion? So far not yet. We’re obviously watching that very closely. I think the most recent restrictions that the mayor imposed on gatherings and essential business doesn’t affect our finalizing of construction. Having said that, PARIC, who is our main general contractor, is having to modify their work rules in order to comply with some of these social distancing issues. It’s likely there will be some delays as PARIC works through revised work rules to handle construction during this time. 

When do you project to have information out to fans about what the ticketing process might be with possible cancellations? There was a call earlier today among all the teams and there’s a desire for it to be somewhat of a unified response on that. It’s really being dealt with at the MLB level in terms of deciding when we make those announcements. Obviously opening day was supposed to be later this week. It’s not going to happen. As soon as games start getting lost to the calendar, I think you’ll see a lot of information come out that relates to refund approaches and things of that nature. I’m hoping all the teams will be on the same page with how they deal with it. 

Click here for the full interview.

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