Rebuilding America: The financial impact of no games, or even having no fans at games

Matt Hollinshead, mhollinshead@daily-times.com

FARMINGTON — As much as San Juan County’s sports scene is stressing public health above all else during the COVID-19 pandemic, athletic personnel are still mindful of the financial consequences of not playing games or even not allowing fans to attend.

“It’d be terrible,” Piedra Vista girls basketball coach Joe Reed said. “I can speak for my basketball team. We have a great following. We didn’t have that crowd there (at state) to bring us home."

The concerns are that it wouldn’t be sustainable over an extended period of time.

The main areas that’d be hit are team booster fundraising, ticket sales and concession sales.

“There are going to be a lot of programs that can’t even make it a year. Everybody got hit altogether, and it’ll be a ripple effect,” Kirtland Central boys basketball coach Brian Dowdy said. “It’s more than just a game in a lot of areas. It’s part of the culture.”

Reed said money for athletic budgets come from booster funds.

“We’ve come to the understanding that it’s going to be tight this year,” Reed said.

Shiprock boys basketball coach Chester Atcitty said SHS brings in anywhere from $500 to $2,000 in popcorn sales during each home basketball game, depending on attendance numbers.

Atcitty also said money made during basketball season helps SHS pay expenses for sports like golf and baseball.

“Man, it takes quite a bit money. Then you don’t have any sales for your boosters. It takes a big bite out of your budget, definitely,” Atcitty said. “We’d have to be a little bit more creative. The way our booster works, they’re going to have to change. It puts a toll on the businesses too, from one sport or another.”

Statewide impact

According to an April story in the Santa Fe New Mexican, the NMAA lost more than half a million dollars in combined revenue from both the state basketball and state spirit championships, its first and third largest revenue sources, respectively.

The 2020 state spirit championships were canceled due to the pandemic, and the 2020 spring sports season (baseball, softball, golf, tennis and track) were also canceled.

In all, from the state basketball championships to cancelling the spring sports championships, the NMAA reportedly lost about $650,000.

And there’s still the worry over whether the 2020-2021 sports campaign will take place because of local revenue generated through ticket and concession sales.

Reed said close to 12,000 people attended the 5A girls basketball quarterfinals matchup between PV and Farmington at DreamStyle Arena in Albuquerque, the night before the coronavirus halted fan attendance for the rest of the tournament.

Contingency plans

If the season does proceed, Reed said he already decided to remove the Kiwanis Invitational Tournament, which is held in Alamogordo and normally costs PV about $3,000 for bus, hotel and meal services, from his team's schedule and replaced them with two extra home games and one extra away game.

And teams are already brainstorming ways to keep fans engaged.

In the scenario that games can be played without fans present, some teams are looking at offering them avenues to watch broadcasts of games from home.

Atcitty said he’d support a deal where a family watches a game from home for just $5, which he said is the regular entry fee for one person to go the Chieftain Pit.

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Reed said teams with strong social media presences would have to increase their efforts, whether increasing the number of tweets during a game or incorporating Facebook Live.

“We’re going to have to be smarter in planning, pre-planning before the season starts,” Reed said. “We always try to stay engaged with our fans. If that’s the route we have to go, we’ll explore that when the time comes.”

Matt Hollinshead covers sports for the Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577 and on Twitter at @MattH_717.

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