2020 Olympics: USA Softball weathering a different kind of storm this spring
Craig Cress is used to spending time in the spring gauging which way the wind is blowing.
When your career is softball and your home is Oklahoma, paying attention to the weather this time of year is crucial. You have to be mindful of patterns and predictions during storm season.
Cress is still monitoring forecasts, but they have nothing to do with rain or lightning.
Nowadays, the executive director of USA Softball, headquartered in Oklahoma City, is watching for trends in registration. Are teams signing up for events? Are people renewing their memberships? He is trying to figure out how his organization is going to weather the financial storm caused by coronavirus shutdown.
"We're starting to see some potential light at the end of the tunnel," he said.
As states and local governments are beginning to re-open, so, too, are state softball associations. In places like Nebraska and West Virginia, teams will be allowed to practice starting June 1, then will be able to play games June 15. Such moves have prompted an increase in registrations.
"I know a lot of people are excited and looking forward to having the opportunity of playing, just getting out and doing team-type sports," Cress said.
But even recent trends are no guarantee of what the coming year could bring for USA Softball or any of the country's national governing bodies for Olympic sports. While the postponement of the 2020 Olympics is part of the equation — tens of millions of dollars in media rights money shared by the groups won't be available this year — it isn't the only issue.
All of the national governing bodies are nonprofits. Even though they prepare elite athletes to represent the United States in the Olympics, they receive no funding from the federal government. Their dollars come through membership dues, event proceeds, corporate sponsorships and private donations.
Those revenue streams have largely dried up in the past few months.
The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee did a survey of its national governing bodies recently, and even though Cress was aware of how the pandemic all but wiped out USA Softball's spring events, he was still stunned at the total number of youth and amateur tournaments and events that have been canceled.
He called it staggering.
Hundreds of lost events means millions in lost revenue.
"I think a lot of the NGBs are in the same situation we are that have large grassroots programs," Cress said. "A lot of their money that they're able to put towards their national team programs come from the grassroots development programs that we have. So we're all being affected by it."
USA Softball even applied for the Payroll Protection Program and received a little over $400,000 to be used for staff salaries and benefits as well as utilities at USA Softball headquarters.
It wasn't the only national governing body to seek such relief; an Associated Press survey revealed that at least 32 applied for PPP assistance.
Cress isn't sure what the rest of the year will bring for USA Softball. Even as he sees an uptick in registrations around the country, he knows some events will see downturns. Even though people want to play, they want to stay close to home, so national tournaments could take a big hit.
"There's not very many people ... excited to get on airplanes right now," Cress said. "They're excited to play, but they're not excited to get on an airplane and travel across the country.
"It's gonna be a tough year."
The storm isn't over, and even though Craig Cress has seen a lot of ominous skies, this one is different. There's no forecast for how bad it will be or how long it will last.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK or follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok.