Slammers’ new lease reflects long-term relationship with Joliet

Joliet’s second minor league baseball team has now been in town 10 years

The Slammers are here to stay – at least through the 2028 baseball season, according to the teams new lease with the city of Joliet.

The new lease includes few changes with the major ones being its length of six years, an increase in rent, and the elimination of stadium naming rights revenue for the city.

The lease is the longest for the Slammers, a team put together to fill the city-owned stadium for the 2012 season after its predecessor, the JackHammers, went bankrupt. The Slammers now have been in Joliet as long as the JackHammers, the first minor league team to play at the stadium when it opened in 2002.

The Slammers may not be as flashy as the JackHammers, which put a giant statue of a construction worker behind the left-field wall, created annual promotions like whirlpool seating, and even shot a man out of a cannon and ran monkey races for post-game entertainment in one of its last years.

But the Slammers are steady.

“This is our 10th season, and one of the things we’re proud of is we’re trying to be a low-drama tenant for the city,” majority owner Nick Semaca said. “We’re paying our bills, and we’re part of the community. I take real joy in that.”

The JackHammers notoriously did not pay bills in their last season, leaving local vendors and even the famous San Diego Chicken mascot looking for their money, as the team went bankrupt.

The Slammers, in contrast, plan to be around at six more years and maybe longer.

Fans wait in line for the Steel Grill at the Joliet Slammers home opener against the Ottawa Titans. Friday, May 13, 2022, in Joliet.

The lease approved by the City Council on Tuesday includes options to extend for two additional five-year terms.

The option basically makes it possible to eliminate the chore of renegotiating the lease if both sides agree, said Deputy City Attorney Chris Regis.

“It’s a way of streamlining the process instead of going through this again if we want to,” Regis said. “We don’t have to go back to the drawing board if we don’t want to.”

“I think it just makes a longer commitment easier,” Semaca said. “But that’s something we’ll deal with in six years when we come to it.”

Semaca noted that at one point the Slammers were renegotiating leases every other year.

He said the six-year lease lines up with commitments the team is making with the Frontier League, the league in which the Slammers play.

The lease raises the Slammers annual rent from the current $75,000 to $90,000. In 2026, rent goes up to $105,000.

While the Slammers pay more in rent, they keep all naming rights revenue for the stadium.

Previous leases always provided the city with half the naming rights revenue after certain expenses. The current naming rights deal is for $125,000 a year.

Semaca noted there have been years the stadium went without a naming rights deal. He said the city avoids the risk that comes from naming rights revenue while getting higher rent from the team.

By not sharing revenue with the city, the Slammers won’t have to make public the terms of its naming rights deals with private companies, which became an issue with the current agreement that the city only made public to settle a lawsuit filed by The Herald-News.

“For most baseball teams, naming rights deals aren’t public,” Semaca said. “The reason is the people making the deals don’t want the terms public. Doing negotiations in public is just limiting.”

Mayor Bob O’Dekirk noted the Slammers survived the COVID-19 pandemic, which hurt many minor league teams.

“But they (the Slammers) have done well,” O’Dekirk said. “Attendance is up, and they’re one of the better teams in the league in attendance.”

According to the Frontier League, the Slammers rank third in average attendance at 2,566 a game and have total attendance of 92,377 so far this season.

Fans from one of the suites celebrate a Joliet Slammers home run against the Ottawa Titans at the home opener. Friday, May 13, 2022, in Joliet.

O’Dekirk was a councilman when the city signed its first lease with the Slammers at a time when Joliet needed a team to avoid a season with no baseball after the JackHammers went out of business.

“They’ve done a nice job,” the mayor said of the Slammers. “There are things we’ve asked for, and they’ve been receptive.”