Grant to help Dayton Dragons ‘get past all things COVID’

Attendance was set at 30 percent of capacity during opening day for the Dayton Dragons at Day Air Ballpark in Dayton May 11, 2021. Contributed photo by E.L. Hubbard
Attendance was set at 30 percent of capacity during opening day for the Dayton Dragons at Day Air Ballpark in Dayton May 11, 2021. Contributed photo by E.L. Hubbard

Credit: E.L. Hubbard

Credit: E.L. Hubbard

After returning to full capacity at its ballpark, the owners of the Dayton Dragons have received another $250,000 from Montgomery County on top of more than $6 million in previous relief loans and grants to help pay for health safety upgrades and rebound from the pandemic, which wiped out all the team’s revenue for a year and half.

County commissioners approved the economic development grant Tuesday to reimburse the team’s owner, Palisades Arcadia Baseball LLC, for touchless cleaning needs.

“The Dayton Dragons play a big part in the culture and entertainment of our area. The team is a major economic driver for our county, with over $27 million in economic impact every year,” said Montgomery County Commission President Judy Dodge.

Health orders last year put an end to the 2020 season before it even started, leaving Day Air Ballpark empty and Dragons staff furloughed. The team opened this year under a reduced seating plan and was allowed to return to full capacity June 8.

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Robert Murphy, the team’s president and general manager, said the grant from the county will help free up a little more capital in an already tight budget. Many people who have come back to the park this year are attending on packages bought for the season scuttled last year. That fallout will follow the club well into the 2022 season, he said.

“We actually have a three-year horizon to get past all things COVID,” he said. “We’ve been trying to do everything in our power to keep our budgets in alignment. We’re pretty conservative, because we know we have to get through this year, and we have to get through next year.”

Though picking up now, the team also lost about nine months of “our normal runway” for group sales, which before the pandemic accounted for about 100,000 tickets annually, Murphy said.

The new grant follows a previous county CARES Act grant of $95,000 and one for $300,000 from the city of Dayton.

The team also received a $4 million Main Street Lending Program loan last November, according to Federal Reserve data. The U.S. Treasury Department program offered five-year, deferred principal and interest payment loans aimed at small and middle-sized businesses and nonprofits.

The owners also received a Paycheck Protection Program loan of $865,997 in February 2021, according to program data, and secured a similar amount in the program’s first round last year, according to the team.

The county’s Office of Economic Development grant from general funds was awarded to the Dragons owner because of the team’s direct and indirect economic impact on development and jobs within the county, according to the resolution.

“This investment helps them recoup the costs associated with the safe reopening of Day Air Ballpark for Dragons games, which in turn, helps our entire region emerge from the pandemic,” Dodge said.

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More than half the CARES Act grant the team received through the county last year went toward sanitizing and soap dispensers along with COVID communications, design and marketing, according to a Nov. 13, 2020 agreement. The bulk of the remainder was spent on personal protective equipment, signage and cleaning supplies.

Other funding was put toward plexiglass screens, replacing plumbing fixtures to touchless models, as well as moving to a touchless ticketing system, according to Murphy.

The team’s record consecutive sellout streak had continued through the 2019 season, standing at 1,385 after the final regular season home game Sept. 2, 2019.

But the team has put on hold declaring a game a sellout until life is genuinely back to normal, Murphy said.

“Our sellout streak is an important part of this region and it’s a legitimate sell-out streak. We didn’t want to start having to redefine what a sellout is,” he said. “Given this year, starting with restrictions, not knowing when restrictions would be lifted, the impact that we’ve not had a normal sales season … we were going to put a pause on the season with respect to the sellout streak.”

The Dragons, 21-16 and atop its division, will be back in action tonight at Day Air Ballpark against the Fort Wayne TinCaps with the first pitch at 7:05. While Day Air Ballpark won’t be filled near its 6,830-fan capacity, Murphy said he’s been “super impressed and filled with gratitude for how supportive people have been.”