COVID-19 Effect on Local Economy: Charlotte Knights

Updated: Jun. 17, 2020 at 5:49 PM EDT
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - It has been months since Truist Field, previously BB&T Ballpark, held the sights and sounds of a crowd cheering on their favorite team.

"Crushing, it really was," says Charlotte Knights COO Dan Rajkowski of closing the gates in March. "Here we are ramping up, getting ready to go, we've played our first college baseball game, we had a total of six on our schedule, and that's always just a great way to get the season going, the weather's turning nice, very difficult in the timing of it."

Rajkowski says the organization is hurting without the revenue from tickets or concessions during what would have been the Knights' season.

"The good news is we've limited the expenses, you don't have team travel and all the things related to that," he says. "I still rather have the expenses of those things with players playing, but we'll try to survive through this.."

Rajkowski says without minor league sports in play, there is a greater effect on the sports industry as a whole.

"These players, they're used to habit, baseball is practice, and we can't turn the switch on and have these athletes ready to play," he says. "They've been playing baseball their whole lives, they're not without it. I think that impacts how their day-to-day routine goes. Minor league baseball's through 160 communities across the country, and there's another element of our negotiations with major league baseball as well for our contract extension, so it's really a tense time, but these communities rely on it."

Communities of people, like those the Knights used to employ.

"I think the toughest thing I've had to do is lay off people," Rajkowski says. "I've been in this business for 35 years, and when you have people who are terminated over the course of time which is never pleasant, to lay off a third of my staff was personally one of the most challenging things I've had to do. I'm hopeful we'll be able to bring them back."

Talking jobs connected to the minor league team does not just mean the hundreds the Knights directly employ, but other industries and other jobs that are affected by baseball shutting down.

"You look inside this ballpark, about 450 take to put on a good Friday night game, a good sellout game," Rajkowski says. "So, you look at all those people and all those that are impacted, and then you look around our area, just go up to Latta Arcade, and look at what it was months ago at 5:00 with people going before a ball game, now it's just empty. It just branches out, way beyond, all the vendors that we deal with, the reach is pretty widespread."

The added blow: the loss of major events that would have been held at Truist Field.

“We look at Knights, we look at college baseball, we had the ACC tournament this year, which would’ve been a huge impact for the city,” Rajkowski says. “And then we just recently lost the RNC, which we were one of 16 venues, the ‘sweet 16’ as they called it, we had pre-bookings in this venue that would’ve helped.”

The organization has just recently started hosting other small events like disc golf and dinner, and the socially-distanced return of college baseball, this weekend. But these events do not sustain the Knights financially.

"They don't, frankly," the COO says. "When you're putting 25 people here and there, it's keeping our people active, which is keeping them working, the full time people. Fortunately we have a little bit of reserve, and we'll try to live off that, but that's not going to sustain very long."

What gives Rajkowski hope is knowing the game must come back eventually.

“I have confidence that people are going to have confidence in us providing a building that’s safe,” he says. “This community needs to unite in a lot of different ways, and sports does that. I hope that can help, as we’re talking about the challenges the NBA and NFL are going through and discussions about the racial injustice and things in our community and our world is dealing with, I’m hopeful that baseball is going to be a part of that, to help bring our communities together.”

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