With California Gov. Gavin Newsom slowly lifting health and safety restrictions and allowing businesses all over the state to open their doors once again to the public, one looming question remains up in the air: What about sports?
Newsom’s announcement about reopening the economy stated that establishments such as schools, camps, movie theaters, gyms and professional sports venues would be able to reopen with required modifications June 12.
While several professional sports leagues have been allowed to resume their training and competitions with the absence of live audiences, organizations such as the NCAA and smaller groups such as local recreational teams have been struggling to make up their lost revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The baseball world, in particular, has needed to make difficult decisions — most squads have had to cancel their seasons in full, while the MLB drastically reduced the number of rounds in the 2020 draft and downsized season bonuses. College programs, high school teams and minor and major league clubs have also been forced to cut salaries and budgets. College teams especially will be hit particularly hard in the coming months due to fund cuts from their respective schools, loss of ticket sales and dwindling donations.
To make up for such financial changes, a handful of baseball stadiums and local sandlots have transformed their parks into drive-in movie theaters. Teams in Wisconsin, for example, have converted the parking lots of places such as Ballpark Commons and Warner Park into replications of one of the United States’ favorite old-school traditions.
The latter is home to the summer collegiate league baseball club dubbed the Madison Mallards, a team associated with the Northwoods League. Warner Park, more commonly referred to as the Duck Pond, began its movie showings June 18 after Wisconsin signed an order last month allowing the reopening of drive-in cinemas with restrictions.
“We wanted to be a reason for the community to stay hopeful and enjoy a new opportunity that may have not been able to present itself in other circumstances,” said Brian Sholty, the Mallards’ group accounts manager, in an email. “We wanted to give our fans and community something they would enjoy while still remaining safe during this time.”
Providing a fun and healthy environment for their community, however, is not the only reason the Mallards set up the drive-in movie theater.
“The shelter-in-place had put a pause to our ticket sales push,” Sholty said in the email. “We have worked tirelessly to stay open and communicate with existing and prospective customers to ensure that whenever baseball does make a return our fans know that we have their best interest at heart.”
So far, the tactic has worked against the negative financial impact caused by the pandemic and has provided the Mallards with steady revenue while they wait for the season to pick up once again.
“The Drive-In has created some cash flow for us during a time where that would be almost nonexistent,” Sholty explained in the email. “Seeing the amount of support we have gotten from our fans and community has really made this worth it for us.”
While no one knows exactly when baseball on any level will go back to what it once was, people will continue to reminisce and bond over the memories they had while it was still around — and where better to do so than at a ballpark?
“I miss sports at all levels. Everything from little league baseball games, to college football spring games, and of course Mallards Baseball,” Sholty said in the email. “It’s a situation we are all in together though, and I will always believe that the safety of our world and country is more important than a sporting event.”
Assuming that there will be a time when the COVID-19 pandemic is no longer a threat, Sholty said the Mallards may consider holding an event like this again, even when sports make their full return.
However, not everyone has decided to pick up the trend — Cal baseball included. Upon the NCAA’s decision to cancel all three divisions’ remaining winter and spring sports, many fields, arenas and coliseums have been left empty, and fans are wondering what will become of them until programs are given the green light to return.
With the California economy slowly reopening in these still-unsure times, taking advantage of the opportunity to open a drive-in theater could prove beneficial to the Bears, as the trajectory of college baseball in particular is still in question.
So instead of taking your friends, family or other loved ones out to a ballgame, take them out to a drive-in movie — maybe one that is set up outside a baseball park.
Kiana Thelma Devera writes for Bear Bytes. Contact her at [email protected].