Slammers plan baseball in Joliet but want rent break for 2020-2021

The Joliet Slammers plan to host professional baseball again in 2021 but are looking for some rent relief from the city to do it.

Slammers’ management on Tuesday said they made Joliet one of only two cities in Illinois that managed to put fans in seats for professional sports in 2020 after the COVID-19 pandemic arrived. But the team lost $365,000 doing it.

The team in 2020 organized a four-team tournament with eight weeks of baseball played at city-owned DuPage Medical Group Field. The Slammers arranged the tournament after the Frontier League to which it belongs canceled its season.

“To be clear, we’re planning on doing whatever the hell we can to play” in 21021, team owner Nick Semaca told the Joliet City Council Stadium Committee. “We may have to revert to a modified version of what we did last year.”

The Slammers want the city to drop the $116,500 rent plus stadium naming-rights revenue owed for 2020 to $44,600. The team so far has paid $37,500 on the 2020 season.

Semaca said the number is based on the 6% of total revenue that rent cost the Slammers in its last normal season in 2019.

The team also wants 2021 rent to be based on 6% of revenue rather than the flat $116,500.

The committee did not take a position on the proposal but agreed to have the Slammers make a presentation to the full council on Jan. 19.

“This is pretty big,” Councilwoman Jan Quillman said. “I think it should go the full council to discuss it.”

Semaca said it’s hard to predict what will happen in 2021, including whether there will be a Frontier League season.

But despite widespread media attention to the Slammers’ ability to host baseball and fans in 2020, attendance was disappointing, he said.

Average attendance per game was 132 fans, and the biggest game drew 318 people to the stadium. That compared to a 2019 season in which average attendance was 2,536, and the largest crowd was 5,532.

The team did have to implement social distancing restrictions that limited maximum attendance to 880, General Manager Heather Mills said.

She said the altered season still brought revenue to the Joliet area while bringing new talent to the stadium as the Slammers were able to recruit players affiliated with Major League Baseball because their minor league seasons were canceled in 2020.

“We recruited 124 players across the country, who came into Joliet for eight weeks,” Mills said.

She said 850 hotel room nights were booked at area hotels during the course of the Tournament of Champions hosted by the Slammers.