Pirates President Travis Williams on MLB's return: 'Reasonable minds will prevail'June 1, 2020 11:46pm

June 01-- Pirates President Travis Williams believes PNC Park will host Major League Baseball games this summer.

Speaking Monday on a Pittsburgh Technology Council webcast, Williams explained his reasoning while discussing a few different topics relative to the Pirates and business of baseball.

"I'm confident just because I think reasonable minds will prevail," Williams said. "They always do in these situations. These are unfortunate times for a lot of people in the world. This is not something that's just hitting Pittsburgh or the United States. I think we all acknowledge that.

"We all understand that we're going to be taking on losses, whether we're talking about players or organizations. But at the end of the day, reasonable minds will prevail. We'll be able to find common ground."

Williams said he and others on the ownership side were still "parsing through" the proposal the MLB Players Association made on Sunday afternoon, one that includes a 114-game schedule and allows them to keep roughly 70% of their salaries.

The league has been on the other side of the financial spectrum, with its sliding-scale proposal being quickly jettisoned by the union.

On Monday, Williams acknowledged that both sides must come together soon because there isn't much appetite for this sort of back-and-forth right now.

"We're going to be able to find a way to make it make sense for everybody economically," Williams said. "We're all in tough times. Nobody wants to hear about team owners and players losing money. I think we just want to get back and play baseball and really bring our communities back together."

If baseball does come back, it's unlikely to involve the Arizona biosphere that was floated earlier this spring, where teams would effectively quarantine together.

Williams explained why MLB moved off that plan and the NHL and NBA have kept going with it, relying on one or two hub cities to house a dozen or so teams.

"We're not like the NBA or the NHL, who had 80 to 90% of their seasons done and were looking for a place to finish their playoffs," Williams said. "It's a little easier to do that in a limited time frame. If you can imagine trying to move all of our staff, all of our players that are necessary to put on a game and have them be away from their families for a good five or six months, that was going to be a tall task."

It was also interesting to hear Williams speak on the Pirates' business mindset and strategy over these past couple months.

While they have officially offered ticket refunds through May-the same as every other MLB club-they've tried to be as flexible as possible with season ticket holders who have been rocked by the coronavirus pandemic.

That additional empathy and flexibility has been by design, Williams said, as the Pirates have tried to remain charitable and community focused while remembering what some of their fans may be going through right now.

"I preached heavily to our group, this was not a time to think about revenue," Williams said. "We weren't invoicing. We weren't selling. That's not who we are. That's not what this was about. Instead, we reminded everybody to be as compassionate as possible throughout their conversations."

A new challenge for Williams and others on the Pirates' business side will likely be presenting games without fans and trying to make them a positive financial operation. Additional access collectively bargained with the MLBPA may be a consideration, while Williams and the Pirates also must be cognizant of ad placement and ensuring that spigot stays on.

"Now, we're turning the page and thinking, 'OK, baseball is on the horizon. We're getting ready to come back,' " Williams said. "But our next challenge is really if people can't come to the ballpark, how can we bring the ballpark to them?

"We've been focusing a lot on, 'How can we really make the at-home experience of watching our sport on television interesting, appealing, fun and unique and really lean in and embrace the fact that we won't have fans? And how do we do that from the standpoint of putting sponsors or logos in the seats, virtually or physically? How do we maybe mic the players and give people unique access that they don't normally get if they're at the ballpark or regularly watching at home?

"We have a lot of great ideas brewing, a lot of things that we're doing at the league level, a lot of things we're doing with AT&T SportsNet and a lot of things we're doing just as a group here with the Pirates. We'll be rolling those out through the month of June as we get ready to hopefully ramp up and start playing baseball again in July."

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Williams stated the obvious when he said that minor league baseball "probably won't happen this year."

But he did say the Pirates have reached out to all of their affiliates on the business and baseball sides to discuss ways to make it through, how the MLB club can help and how those clubs may be able to help with player development down the line.

"There's a lot of angst, as you can imagine, among those owners in terms of how they're going to survive for the course of the year without a season," Williams said.

"I think minor league baseball is an important part of the fabric of these local communities. I think you'll see people continue to support them. I think there are ways in which they'll be able to continue to survive and still be an important part of those communities."

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A few more tidbits from Williams' 30-minute session:

- Manager Derek Shelton and bench coach Don Kelly have participated in Zoom calls with sponsors such as Jim Beam and Jack Daniel's. "Our coaches really enjoy those because they're able to enjoy the product during the virtual Zoom meetings," Williams said with a laugh.

- Williams said the expansion of the MLB postseason from 10 to 14 teams-as proposed by the players' union-may become a permanent thing. "We're excited about that possible change," Williams said. "That may even stick with baseball moving forward."

- The taxi squads MLB teams will potentially use-20 or so players staying ready in case they're needed, like a Class AAA team minus the games-will likely train somewhere within 100 miles of PNC Park, Williams said.

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(c)2020 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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