The coronavirus pandemic is likely to bench minor-league baseball in Manchester.
“We, of course, feel terrible that it’s not likely that we’ll play this summer,” New Hampshire Fisher Cats owner Arthur Solomon told the New Hampshire Union Leader in a phone interview Friday.
Through Sunday, 37 games will have been postponed — including 17 at home. The season was scheduled to start April 9 on the road and April 16 at home at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium.
A canceled season could mean a “bottom line” loss of more than $1 million for the Fisher Cats this year, said Solomon, who has owned the team for 15 years.
“Because we don’t have the revenue sources, particularly television that Major League Baseball does, it’s tougher to imagine that we’re going to play,” said Solomon, chairman and CEO of The DSF Group, a real estate investment company in Waltham, Mass.
The pandemic has caused sporting events around the world to be postponed or canceled.
Many businesses also shuttered as governments placed restrictions to try to curb the spread of COVID-19.
MLB officials and the players union are discussing how to possibly proceed with a shortened season. Solomon said he expects a decision on the minor leagues will follow.
Trying to play games with fans while health safeguards like social distancing are in place would be “very, very challenging,” he said. He also doesn’t know what state restrictions will remain in effect for large gatherings.
Baseball games give families something to do outside, and fans provide parking revenue for the city, said At Large Alderman Joe Kelly Levasseur.
“I hope they open,” Levasseur said. “We need to get this state open, and we need to get people outside, and we need to get people enjoying their lives.”
Solomon has retained all his full-time staff so far, helped by a $300,000 loan secured through the Paycheck Protection Program.
Last season, the Fisher Cats drew 306,511 fans at home, an average of 4,716 a game.
Solomon hopes he can open the team’s stadium along the Merrimack River for fans to watch Major League Baseball games on the giant scoreboard.
“Still enjoy baseball at our stadium with social distancing and face masks,” he said.
Meanwhile, Solomon sent a letter to the city saying he had welcomed two new ownership partners — Rick Brenner, former Fisher Cats president and general manager for more than 10 years, and Tom Silvia, a long-time financial executive with Fidelity Investments and VineBrook Partners.
“I’m still going to be far and away the largest shareholder,” said Solomon, who noted he had been the sole owner since buying the team.
He declined to say how much the team is worth or how much the two Amherst residents are investing.
Solomon, who is in his 70s, said he was planning for the team’s future.
“I will be the managing owner, managing director, until I either voluntarily or involuntarily step down,” he said. Brenner, currently the the president of the Michigan International Speedway, and Silvia can then take over majority ownership.
Solomon said his two sons and daughter own another Eastern League team, the Hartford Yard Goats, which precluded them from owning the Fisher Cats.
In June 2016, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted unanimously to approve $948,000 in city funds to pay for stadium improvements.
The city received a promise from team ownership regarding collateral if the team attempted to move out of Manchester before 2028.
On Tuesday, Solomon plans to appear electronically before a special meeting of the Board of Mayor and Aldermen at 5:30 p.m. to discuss amending two existing agreements. The changes would make his two new partners subject to the same legal and financial obligations that Solomon and the city put in place in 2016.
“Among other things, these two amendments provide the city with a guarantee that if the Fisher Cats were ever to leave Manchester before the bond was fully retired, the team’s owners would still be responsible for their 50% obligation to repay the initial bond,” Solomon wrote aldermen.
A central purpose for adding the two partners to the ownership group “is to ensure that such a move does not occur,” Solomon wrote.
The bond’s balance is less than $7 million, less than one-third of the owners’ pledged collateral in one of the agreements.
“Given that since 2016, the value of the team has increased while the balance on the bond has decreased, this amendment provides the city with more collateral now than it had in 2016 to secure against this extremely remote risk,” Solomon wrote.