National Sports Center officials are documenting revenue losses during the coronavirus outbreak in hopes of getting state or federal aid to offset forfeited income from postponed tournaments, leagues and programming.
Depending on how long the pandemic plays out, the Blaine complex — said to be the most visited youth sports facility in the country — expects to lose at least $1 million for every month it’s shut down.
Right now that’s until May 1, though that time could be extended if Gov. Tim Walz orders longer stay-at-home and social distancing rules.
Events and activities for athletes of all ages have been put on hold at the sports center, which draws 4 million visitors annually and ranks as the state’s second biggest tourist attraction, behind only the Mall of America.
It’s one of the world’s largest amateur sports facilities and also serves as the training ground for Minnesota United FC. And it had big plans this year to mark its 30th anniversary.
Though the National Sports Center was founded and developed with state funding, it’s an independent organization that receives no operating revenue from the state. Executive Director Todd Johnson said the nonprofit center barely breaks even and relies on sponsorships to meet its bottom line.
Last year it reported $14.8 million in expenses while generating $15 million in revenue. “We’re about as skinny as it comes,” Johnson said. “When you don’t have a single dollar coming in because you’re all fee- and event-based revenue, it puts you in a precarious position.”
The sports center is asking supporters to donate to Fund for Play to help maintain its viability, Johnson said. It also is trying to defer and draw down other expenses, he said, “without sacrificing future growth opportunity.”
That means the center is moving ahead with construction of a $4 million sports dome bubble. Johnson said he’s anticipating a huge demand for indoor practice space once activities resume.
All 58 full-time employees are still getting paid, Johnson said, but part-time and seasonal staffers are not being scheduled.
The center’s 72 events last year — including soccer, hockey, golf, figure skating, lacrosse, broomball, cycling, baseball, football, volleyball and rugby — had a regional economic impact of nearly $90 million and generated nearly $700,000 in tax revenue, according to the center.
Youth sports across the country, a $20 billion industry, are being hurt by the coronavirus outbreak, according to a recent Forbes article.
The sports center’s closing also leaves hundreds of young athletes without a good outlet for team bonding and skill building. More than 10,000 kids are being affected by the sports shutdown across Minnesota, and that number will likely grow if the shutdown drags into the summer.
“What does that mean for the economy and psyche and well-being of athletes?” Johnson said.
In the meantime, he said, he has offered use of the campus to state and county officials for medical needs. For example, an old dormitory might provide hospital bed space or serve as a mass dispensing site.