82: Ryan Voz, Having Baseball Games with Crowds During the Pandemic (transcript)

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Ryan Voz 0:00
Got the approval on 250 fans, which is kind of the probably the bottom of where we wanted to be the minimum number of fans. Typically we draw 1000 fans a game. We were allowed to, to gather at 250 fans. We said well, you’ll take it. Hopefully the numbers will go up.

Curt Carstensen 0:33
This is People I Know Show. I’m Curt Carstensen. Back with episode number 82. My guest today is Ryan Voz. Ryan was previously on the podcast about one year ago is Episode 45. That one I titled, lessons and stories from a career in baseball. Today we’re talking about baseball but more specifically about playing baseball games with fans in a pandemic. Ryan Voz and his Willmar Stingers organization in the college would bat summer collegiate Northwoods league just finished their season after being approved to have up to 250 fans in the stadium is less than they normally want. But they went ahead with it made the most of it. And Ryan seems to have learned a lot. He shares some of that. And was it worth it? Did they do it effectively? And it really fits into his personal growth segment where he’s learned to roll with the punches of life. And this summer, gave him many things to consider. Make sure you’ve subscribed to People I Know Show on your favorite podcast playing app. Still no specific plan for the frequency of when new episodes will come out. This one I think it’s been about three weeks. I’m in a very non committal situation right now with the other things that I have going on in my life, but I do intend on continuing to have conversations and putting what I think is relevant, fun or interesting, motivating, fascinating. Or whatever word you would like to describe the conversations that I come up with. They’ll be up periodically, and I’d love for you to listen again. Give me feedback on what you’ve heard so far. Leave ratings and reviews on Apple podcast or on Stitcher. Follow People I Know Show on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, watch clips from recent episodes on the People I Know Show clips channel on YouTube and find blogs and transcripts at curtcarstensen.com here’s my conversation with Ryan Voz. Ryan Voz joins me from Willmar, Minnesota, I suspect

Ryan Voz 2:56
right here in our office, you know,in Willmar, Minnesota.

Curt Carstensen 3:00
Behind you on the video I see Barry the the mascot of the stingers. Ryan, you were a guest about this time last year, sometime late last August, a few days after your season ended, it

Ryan Voz 3:12
was very similar,

Curt Carstensen 3:13
similar thing this year last year. The conversation with you is more about the fact that we had this relationship together and working in baseball. And we’ve been working in baseball for so many years and you shared some fun stories and lessons from your life. We’ll probably do less of that today and moreso the fact that I can’t imagine of all the seasons you’ve had and there’s some crazy things that happened in in summer collegiate Northwoods League Baseball, but you play the season during a pandemic. And I bet a lot of people didn’t even realize this was a thing because you had bands coming to the game. So if you can, let’s start back in time to when the pandemic was happening and what that was like owning being an owner and a GM of a team in The Northwoods league knowing that you’d need your season to have a business.

Ryan Voz 4:04
yeah, no, it was a, you know, the middle of March here in Minnesota, I guess. And really across the country when things started to seem a little uncertain. It was probably, you know, they started shutting down restaurants and in gysm and, in creating guidelines in terms of businesses and how many employees they could have into their business and whether they should work from home. And we didn’t you know, we’re a small operation, there’s only four of us that are full time with the team, but we didn’t really know if we should continue on or if we were supposed to sit at home and work from our laptops. Are we able to meet with businesses? Are we able to call businesses about their ticket plan? Are we even able to invoice businesses for the upcoming season, not knowing whether the season may or may not happen, but at that point in March, we never thought in a million years that the season would be in jeopardy come the end of May. So we kind of joked in the office to say well, we should be fine. It’s middle of March, we still have April, we still have May. The worst thing that could happen to us is that our sales season for the next two months of April and May are reduced. But we’ll end up going in operation mode and getting ready for the upcoming season the 11th year, but other than our sales season be cut short, we should still be able to play baseball. I never thought that this thing would continue to linger on and on and on and on. was interesting back in in May, I think there was a tweet that came out that talked about we’ll call it football be in jeopardy. Same type of thing. We kind of joke So come on college football in jeopardy doesn’t start till late August or September. Well, here we are. Um, and now we’re talking about winter sports for high school or even spring sports. The University of Minnesota texted me yesterday and said with the Northwoods League season start early next year. If the NCAA Division One baseball season is cut short. We’re in September. They’re asking if we’re going to start our season now in May started earlier because they’re in fear that their seasons Not going to happen in its entirety next spring,

Curt Carstensen 6:06
I suppose a concern for the baseball college baseball programs and you get your players from college baseball programs throughout the country, that if their players aren’t going to be able to play for them, they want them to play somewhere so they can keep getting the repetitions and getting better.

Ryan Voz 6:22
Exactly. So I think that’s the whole idea is like, you know, think about what can they do for these guys if their season is cut short, so as may 15, you know, the middle of May or may the middle of March excuse me hit, they shut down college baseball, and we started looking at you know, getting the Northwoods League expanded the roster, because at that point, they said, let’s make the rosters larger, more guys need an opportunity to play this summer than ever. And so we went and increased the roster size from a 30 to 35 man roster so we were able to bring five more players in for this past season, to get more guys the opportunity but in the middle of March, we didn’t think at any time that we were going to be delayed. But as the time went on, as we got closer to June and our opening night was in dilemma, then we started to wonder whether this thing was going to happen at all. And at some point, we got real concerned that maybe we would not have a season, which there are some teams in the Northwoods league that did not have a season, but we were able to pull off a shortened season of sorts with smaller crowds, which just wrapped up last night in St. Cloud. So

Curt Carstensen 7:33
And let’s go back to that time where Yes, it was announced that the season wouldn’t start on time. And then the uncertainty of whether or not you’d be able to play at all, what were you doing at that time, to maybe work with the city of Willmar or some of the other teams or the league to figure out okay, we can’t have a normal season. What can we possibly do that is worthwhile of bringing everybody in for And what are those conversations like,

Ryan Voz 8:03
you know, for the month of March and April, you tried to stay away from watching the news because you didn’t want to get too caught up into what was kind of going on, but you still wanted to prepare for the upcoming season. Then once we knew that the season was not going to happen, it was gonna be delayed. We did a opening night a hot dog chip and drink at the ballpark for fans to be able to come out in a drive curbside pickup. So fans were literally driving through the parking lot. And we served 1000 people and a two hour span, coming through the ballpark and curbside and delivering food to their car as the home opener. And at that point, we still had no idea. Ah, it’s about that point, we started to get real concern and we became a little bit more vocal. We created a video with our mascot as to what would we do if we were given the approval to open baseball and outdoor venue that gathers crowds and so we created a video that we sent to the governor’s Office at random kstp in case and WCCO in the Twin Cities, about North ASIC baseball, and how can it operate safely going forward for the summer. Then what we had was we got the approval on 250 fans, which is kind of probably the bottom of where we wanted to be the minimum number of fans. Typically we draw 1000 fans a game, we were allowed to, to gather at 250 fans, we said, well, you’ll take it, hopefully the numbers will go up. But at that point, baseball, there was a lot of uncertainty of whether you could actually play the game of baseball with nine players. And whether that was low risk, medium risk or high risk in the state of Minnesota. Ultimately, what we found out is that it wasn’t recommended to play baseball but we were actually allowed to but there was so much confusing terminology that nobody knew whether we just got approved for 250 fans, but now you can’t play the actual game. What good is Having 250 fans if you can’t play the game, and so then the player baseball side of it was approved, and all kind of came together. But it was interesting. I talked to them. We met with the players yesterday. So when June 10 hit, we just set a report date of like June 22nd. And we said get to Wilmer drive here, you got plenty of time. And we’re going to practice for a week, and then we’re going to start the season on July 1st. At that point, we did not have approval to actually play games at the ballpark. But it was a little bit of a gamble, because we knew that we could wait until maybe July one when we’re actually probably going to have the approval, because then we wouldn’t start till July 15. So there are guys that were driving all the way across the country to maybe practice in Willmar and then turn around and drive back home. But that was the risk that we had to take was to have guys either fly in or drive here with not knowing so at that point we’re working with the state but also with the local City in the municipalities in terms of being able to get Northwoods League Baseball approved and Wilmer was the first city in Willmar, that we had approval to actually play the games. And then St. Cloud, Mankato, Rochester, Waterloo, Iowa followed behind so that we could actually create our own kind of division and play baseball.

Curt Carstensen 11:18
And you had the first game at home, was it then on July 1,?

Ryan Voz 11:22
So we started July one, so that you know, the schedule goes, July one to August 20 is what the season was.

Curt Carstensen 11:29
And you played how many home games in this time.

Ryan Voz 11:32
So we played 25 home games in that schedule 20 road games. So we elected to take five additional games on at home that were double headers. So which in hindsight, mean we wouldn’t have done because double headers and pitching staff and still playing every day is a little bit taxing in terms of our pitching staff. But we ended up taking on five double headers and we have one rain out so we had to find 24 home games. 20 road games

Curt Carstensen 12:01
24 home dates maximum 250 fans were a normal season What is it? 37?

Ryan Voz 12:09
36 36 home games. So we were about two thirds of the amount of home games. And we’re a quarter of the fans.

Curt Carstensen 12:16
So I need to ask financially for all the effort and time to do everything you need to do to host these games and the expenses of the bats in the balls and the busing players around. Was it worth it to do this?

Ryan Voz 12:34
Yeah, no, I mean, if you looked at it strictly on an expense standpoint, because once the season started, you pay the coaches, you pay the city of Willmar to use the facility, you pay for all the beer and the soda and all the products you pay the part time staff quite honestly our full time staff or are being employed during that period of time. You’re paying the bus bill, the hotel bill, any other expense, you’re going to use up your entire bats your baseball’s in terms of equipment. So that was, what every team in the league was looking at is what is our true expense for a shortened season once the season starts. But what people don’t realize is that during the offseason, you’re creating, you know, these partnerships with area businesses, whether it’s signage promotion at the ballpark, we had to, we had to operate in order to be able to kind of reengage with those businesses again, and give them the value that they may have already paid for, or are willing to pay for to get it to the end of the season. So we all you know, there’s a lot of promises made to people outside of the season prior that we felt that we needed to fulfill during the summer. And so, you know, there’s many reasons of why you play I mean, number one is hard to imagine not having a season and losing that brand and that experience in the community to take a year off. I think that can be potentially detrimental in terms of trying to create excitement then going into the next year, so we didn’t want to lapse in Northwoods League Baseball, but there was other reasons as well.

Curt Carstensen 14:06
And with the 250 fans per game, how did you manage that? Was there demand for way more? Or are there people like me, I thought like I’ve been to a game at your Stadium, pretty much every year for the last few years, I’ve kind of lost track, but this year, I thought, forget it. I’ll let those 250 people that really want to be there. Be there and I’ll hopefully show up for a game next year. What was that like getting precisely 250? Because in the past, you could probably be at capacity over under and you make it work this year. How did you how quickly do you follow that?

Ryan Voz 14:43
When we started off, we thought that one of the reasons why we created these double headers, we thought there would be this huge demand. So let’s create more games more fans give an opportunity and and the crowds were very consistent at 250. But early on some of them were less than 250. And it’s exactly what you’re talking about. I think people were like, well, I’m a big fan, but I’m just not going to go tonight’s game, I’ll give somebody else the opportunity, or there were some fans that just didn’t feel comfortable coming out. And so, you know, July 4, we’re at 217 fans, and you’re kind of bummed out, like, where is everybody like, this is our second or third game of the season, we can’t even get to 250. And so you’re really jockeying with the numbers to try to figure out how do you get to 250 How do you not end up at 450 do not end up at 150. So, um, you know, if you handed out, you know, if you sold 250 tickets, and 100% of them showed up, Piece of cake, but there isn’t 100% redemption. And so just because somebody may have purchased tickets, something might have come up. So you have to actually have more than 250 in circulation, and then kind of zero in and how you’re only going to put 250 at the ballpark with host families businesses that bought tickets. So You know, we were right at that 250 mark. At one point the state did update the guidelines were able to increase the capacity a little bit beyond the 250. But it was at the tail end of our season. But it did help later on in the year to be able to draw crowds a little bit larger.

Curt Carstensen 16:16
And I’m familiar with your Stadium and the general plan for games as you have the pretty standard seating behind home plate with the grandstand and down each of the lines are some standing zones and some picnic areas. So both during the game 250 fans in your stadium Bill Taunton Stadium in Willmar paint a picture of what that looks like. But also i’m curious, I know in the past, you’d had these sponsor outings and you have a pregame type of event under a giant tent behind behind your stadium somewhere, were you still doing some of those activities.

Ryan Voz 16:51
Yeah, so I mean, you know, in the grandstand, what we created was separate pods in the grandstand. So there was going to be one of two ways we had to go We either had to tell every fan when they came in, practice social distancing. If you’re not, you know, stay six feet apart from somebody that’s not your immediate family member. We could have done that. But let’s face it, people would have been less inclined probably to follow the rules. And then we would have had certain fans become uncomfortable with other fans sitting too close to where they were at with their family. So we elected to go with a pod system in the grandstand. So literally measuring out certain pods in the grandstand of two and four seats. So when you walked into the grandstand, you saw over 300, I think was 320, yellow x’s on the seats, and we could only draw 250 fans, but that allowed us because not everybody comes in a group of two or a group of four. So if you came by yourself, you sat on a two spot, but two yellow x’s, ultimately that one ticket goes unused or that spot so we had to have more pods created and capacity than what we could actually draw. And then when expand came in, they selected where they were going to set. And if it was a family of three, and they set in the four x pod, if it was a family of two, they sat where the two is. And it worked very well because it created the space for the fans in that grandstand on a nightly basis. And then as we got additional capacity, we had separate bathrooms, food and drink in those sweet areas down the line. And so that was considered a separate pod that was not with the initial pod behind home plate. So we were able to increase the capacity because they weren’t co mingling, because they had separate bathroom and food and drink in those areas with no real need to go to other parts of the ballpark. So those were the suite areas on the line were smaller pods and then the grandstand was primarily where majority of the fan set

Curt Carstensen 18:48
and what was your response from some of the fans did they feel like like this was done effectively. Did you think it was done?

Ryan Voz 18:56
Yeah. You know why? I tried to take a step back, you know, Obviously we were wanting to play wanting to play and after the first couple of games, you take a look at it and all of our staff wore masks for the home games. We enhanced sanitizing stations that we rented that we brought into the ballpark for people to use. We limited the number of people that would be in the merchandise stand that was kind of an open air building for merchandise. We had x’s on the on the sidewalks of fans wouldn’t stand closer than six feet apart as they enter the stadium. We had the x’s in the grandstand, your outdoors, which is the biggest key I think why we had some success. And I took a step back and said if you were wanting to be a part of something, this is a safest, any place you can possibly be. You’re outdoors, people are spaced out. And we were very fortunate. We didn’t have any, you know, outbreaks or any cases of fans that were traced back to the ballpark. But we’re outdoors and we played it safe And we were at 250 people and a capacity of 1300 at a stadium. So everybody was spaced out accordingly.

Curt Carstensen 20:08
And you just mentioned no outbreaks nothing trace back to you how much testing was done for the players and your team, the players on the other teams. And like in the city of Willmar, if there was an outbreak would have you like you would have known for sure there’s there’s enough.

Ryan Voz 20:24
I mean, there’s, you know, they’ll trace all the positive cases. When the season started, we tested everybody. So all the players in the entire league got tested. Then we screened them every single day. So the only time we tested was the very first time when they got here and started practice back in June. As you know, it’s been debatable with the whole testing piece to it. We wanted to do the testing, to make sure we don’t have any positive cases but also for the for the comfort level, the host families we’re bringing in 30 players living with 30 different families. They go to work. They have kids, they have mothers and fathers that live in area. We wanted to earn the, you know, the trust of those families by testing the players. And then we screen the players every single day home and road games in terms of temperatures, and in a checklist of questions of how they were feeling before we got on the bus or before we played any night as a as a screening purpose to it. But we did not test after the initial test in June.

Curt Carstensen 21:28
For baseball fans, major league baseball fans, obviously their seasons very different than normal, but they’ve had two teams very early. Miami, and St. Louis had a whole bunch of tests and of course, they’re testing constantly. So it’s possible that more testing finds more cases that agree but aren’t actually spreading or aren’t, aren’t carrying symptoms. But I’d imagine for you, like in the past normal seasons, these are young guys, they maybe after a game go out Gather whatever. What sort of rules did you have in place? Are they effective?

Ryan Voz 22:04
Yeah, no, it was there were stronger rules this year than ever. I mean, it was really a, you know, I think we had to be on the same page. When the players got here. They were very, very appreciative in terms of being able to play the season. All but two or three summer collegiate leagues were shut down across the country. So if you were playing in the Northwoods league this summer, you had an opportunity, just about all other summer baseball players did not have. And so we had to have a heart to heart to talk to him about the trust of the families and not staying over in another player’s house. You had to stay in your host family’s house every single night. You had to go back to your host family’s house, you had to be there. You had to respect the fact and have the conversation with those families that you were not you were playing it safe and that we were not going to have a slip up and be able to you know, that was our fear was that a host family would get COVID from a player. That was my fear and I think That would be ultimately one of the worst things that could happen to us. That’s worse than even a delay in the season or having to not play a night’s game. But there was an agreement, the players, I think, respected the opportunity to play the summer more than ever. We had less guys at the end of the season, be tired and have to get back race across the country to get to school. Most years, these guys play 60 games in college baseball, they turn around, they come to the northwoods league, they can play 70 games, and then they got three days to get back to fall ball. And so of course, by the end of the season, they’re wore out and these guys are trying to get to three days off before they start back in college. This year, we had guys that are still in town here in Willmar today. With last night’s game being the end of the season, that’ll make their journey back. And so there was a it was they spent more time with the host family as well because we had more off days because we’re playing a five team pod. So there was one team in our in our region that was off everything single night, which is a little uncommon in the Northwoods league that we didn’t play every day.

Curt Carstensen 24:05
You know, what the players were doing on those off nights? Because Yeah, that’s one of the things that probably helps. In a situation like the Northwoods league or another when young people gather they want to have fun and socialize fewer off days means fewer opportunities to have a day of, of doing whatever people do when they get a day off. What What were the players do?

Ryan Voz 24:25
I mean, we practice I think all but one or two of them. Okay, so we practice more. And these guys, you know, wanted to get more swings in and do that kind of thing. There was more time spent with their host family. Um, you know, in Willmar, a large part of what people do is, you know, golfing in the Lakes area. And so, I think there was a separate there was a really special bond built with the players and the host families this year, more so than ever, because ultimately, they had off, you played five games and you might have two off days, and then spending these odd days and really being a part of their family versus never seeing them. So, I think, you know, we spend a lot more time with these families than ever have.

Curt Carstensen 25:04
And besides that with the more off days in the past, you’d be busing home from some distant place like Bismarck, North Dakota or Thunder Bay, Ontario, where this year in your pod was, what St. Cloud Mankato with you with Willmar, what Rochester and Waterloo, Iowa. just one.

Ryan Voz 25:19
Yep. Yeah. So we only stayed overnight for nights, two nights in Rochester and two in Waterloo. So we played whatever it was 44-45 games, we only stayed overnight four times, which was part of the plan as well because we didn’t want to have a larger number of overnights on the road. We actually put all the players together that stayed overnight for those four nights. So these guys stayed consistent in terms of staying with the same. And a lot of times we set them up in the same hotel room, if they live together in the host family. They stay together in the hotel. So we try to, you know, be smart from that standpoint and keep these guys together as much as possible.

Curt Carstensen 25:59
Hopefully they They all form strong bonds and didn’t get sick of each other. And there’s a risk of that, too, with how much time you’re spending with someone maybe you didn’t know, until June 22, when they showed up to Willmar,

Ryan Voz 26:09
that’s always an interesting summer because 30 players come in as strangers. And then by the time they leave, these guys are like great friends. And a lot of them will have, you know, friends for a lifetime and being able to keep in contact across the country. So this summer more than ever, these guys had plenty of time.

Curt Carstensen 26:27
And I’m curious, as you mentioned, the season for college baseball was cut short. So the caliber of play in the Northwoods league but by them having such a long layoff, but also were there players that mean the caliber of baseball northwoods league is like always is pretty good. But we’re even more higher caliber players deciding to come to the Northwoods league are able to come to the Northwoods league because of what had happened elsewhere.

Ryan Voz 26:51
Yeah, there was guys I mean, with these leagues being shut down. And then we had expanded rosters. We definitely mean it’ll be interesting to look at three, four years from now how many guys signed pro contracts for how many big leaguers five years from now played during the 2020 season? Because we there was more guys that threw, you know, mid 90s, we thought the hitters seemed to be more advanced. So there was more players, a larger pool of guys. And we think the caliber of baseball was higher this year than it probably had been in the past.

Curt Carstensen 27:25
And I think there’s always a risk. Some of these really high caliber players don’t end up coming to the Northwoods league for a variety of reasons. And now that more of them maybe did this year, hopefully that that experience leads more of them or their fellow teammates back to the northwoods league in future years, especially if they found that this was an experience that that helped them.

Ryan Voz 27:47
Correct. Yeah, no, I definitely can’t hurt. We had a player that was supposed to go to the Cape Cod league. They folded. So then he signed with the team in the Alaskan league. Last week collegiately they didn’t play. So then he said Signed or he was going to go to Eau Claire and play in our league didn’t sign the contract but was going to go to a Claire they decided not to place the ends up in Willmar. So we were his fourth team that he was going to play for for the summer. And he’s a freshman at Cal Poly hit 345 for us this season was very, very thankful in terms of being able to actually play as a freshman. He had a knee injury, he had a surgery, he only got like six at bats before March 15 happened and so this was very, you know, it was huge for him to be able to get this at bats and be able to play. So

Curt Carstensen 28:36
you mentioned Eau Claire, I know there are one of a handful of Northwoods league cities and teams that ended up not having a season at all. I don’t know what you can speak of from your perspective and Willmar, but had you not had yours and we went over some of those reasons why you thought it was important to have a season. But for those teams, what do you think especially it’d be the big challenges to to keep things together for 2021 when there’s gonna be more uncertainty, probably the fact that you had seasons and prove that you could do it this year, you can probably have it again next year. I’m thinking, but there might still be some restrictions. We don’t know. You know, what, what would that be like to be a team that just as an organization that didn’t play?

Ryan Voz 29:14
Yeah. Yeah, you hit on the head. I mean, we have the confidence that we know that we can pull it off. We went through a lot of, you know, crazy days and nights wondering whether we were going to play and everybody in the world. I mean, we faced a lot of adversity in the spring and in the summer. So I talked about why this whole pandemic is sure good for learning how to roll with the punches and kind of adjusting on the fly. So we did that as we went for the other teams that didn’t have that. I guess they’ll be able to use our best practices, so to speak from this year. But it’ll be interesting to see where teams that did not play and how do you where they shut down all summer. Did they have any staff at all? And will they fire it back up in the fall and bring staff back On board and prepare for 21. It’ll be it’ll be interesting to see. And, you know, we’re kind of in this world now, as the season just got over, it’s hard for us to realize what, what the economy is truly like outside of baseball, and have the partners of the Stingers truly been affected going forward in all of these markets. And so it’ll be, it’ll be an interesting offseason. But, you know, for us, the goal is to get to August 20, and cross the finish line, and then we’ll have to create with the next I’m sure there’ll be more challenges ahead as to what we need to overcome next,

Curt Carstensen 30:38
probably challenges for a long time and things you haven’t even considered yet but all the organizations or the franchises are small businesses, not many people working for the team, on the full staff and even a really successful business in any capacity. Many of them are at high risk right now to maybe if they can just keep enough cash flow. Keep it going for the future. But it’s obviously when your cash flow comes from the sponsors that that pay out in advance and the fans come into the games, a lot less cash flow. So like with your with the sponsors, you offer them, you say you’re gonna provide all these things in a season and this season, you probably couldn’t provide everything you had imagined for everybody. How do you handle that?

Ryan Voz 31:24
Yeah, I mean, it was a case by case situation, but 99% of the businesses understand exactly what we’re going through. So, you know, if your partnership was that you were going to have a site at the ballpark and have 1000 fans a game for 36 home games, and that sign is gonna be seen by 36,000 fans. 99% of the businesses understand that, in order for us to get through this, they have to fulfill their commitment, and that they probably didn’t get what they purchased at a reduction of number of games and fans, but they’re going to have to Continue to be behind us. And so in small markets like Willmar, and and with the great business partners that we have, I truly feel that we have the advantage from that standpoint and that they truly see the stingers as a value in the community. And understand in order for us to survive, they’re going to have to continue to follow through with our agreement. Otherwise, you know, who knows what the next season would look like? So, and that was part of the reason why we played is the time went on. Maybe the smart thing to do would have been on mark, we joke on March 15, froze the account, whatever dollars in the account, not spent another dime went, got a job on May 5, March 15. And then started back the business up on October 1, that might have been the smartest play, maybe. But we never thought on March 15, that the season was going to be in jeopardy. If we knew the season was in jeopardy, March 15. Maybe that’s what we would have done. Because financially it probably would have been the smartest thing is to just freeze everything and then shut down the business. And then started back up. But ultimately, during that time we were spending money. And we had payroll and a lot of expenses in front of us that we had to get past. So at that point it was either, you know, full steam ahead, we really couldn’t look back.

Curt Carstensen 33:17
I know one thing you and some of the other teams in the Northwoods League has have been able to do in the past is have special events at the ballpark. You mentioned that opening night this year, you didn’t have a game but you had the drive up situation just to kind of have something because you’ve learned how to host events during a pandemic and you have the qualifications to have what are the 250 or more you said more than 250 people in the ballpark. Now, are you considering hosting other sorts of events still, too,

Ryan Voz 33:48
I mean, I mean, the ballpark sits empty in the fall and it’s a beautiful time of the year. So we are looking actually at doing potentially an outdoor concert and kind of in conjunction With the Chamber of Commerce out of the ballpark, and that might be a 250 or could be a 350 with additional pods. And looking at how else, can we use that facility for some nine Northwoods z revenue in the fall to help offset some of the losses that we would have had this summer by only being at 250. And we are kind of looking at some different things.

Curt Carstensen 34:21
As you’re looking at that I’m sure you’re also ready for maybe a bit of a break. At some point here. It probably was one of the more stressful every season stressful, I’m sure. But what what are you gonna do now that you might have a little more time?

Ryan Voz 34:33
Yeah, you know, it was a whole different type of stress this year. The only time wasn’t stressful is when the game started. And the games were being played. But once the games are over in preparation, it was a completely different stress level. So we talked about doing all these fall events and what can we do but you’re exactly right. We’ve talked about the weather factor, and what risks Do we have involved with it? And what did we just go through in the summer to be able to give us a breather, there’s always a time time that you kind of decompress in the fall. And this fall we’ll do you know, something very similar. But you know, people say what the heck you doing the Northwoods League, the end of August and into September, we’ve got some downtime. And then typically by October 1, we start putting things in place. So I think we’re going to take a breather, or take a few days away with our families, and try to get some rest. But before you know it become anxious, and then we’re right back, wanting to start planning for next year.

Curt Carstensen 35:28
And can you plan for next year? I’m obviously going to plan for next year, but it’s going to be different than before.

Ryan Voz 35:33
Yeah, one of the things that we said is, you know, we did do some group outings at the ballpark. Those people trusted us to do their group outing at the stadium and we did a handful of them. We’re gonna go with those people first, and ask them to make a commitment to do a group outing again next year. Even if we don’t have a schedule. Can we count on you to do that group outing of 30 40 50 or 60. We pulled off an event for you in a pandemic. Everybody stayed safe. They had fun. You had food drink. You believed in us By doing that event, we need your support again next year going forward, can you make that commitment now, and going to those businesses, and then, you know, slowly getting more and more commitments if we can, because the group outings are the toughest part, because that’s the part of our business where we’re encouraging gathering. And right now we’re in that time, you know, in this world where people are trying to not gather like they used to. And so that’s kind of the fine line. I guess.

Curt Carstensen 36:31
We’re coming up to the end of our time here today, Ryan, and I like to end my episodes with my personal growth segment. And I imagine you can tie a lot of growth lessons into the summer, but maybe there’s something totally unrelated. When you think about personal growth and things that you’ve really improved on or are focusing on that other people maybe might benefit from hearing what really comes to mind from your life right now.

Ryan Voz 36:57
Yeah, I know you know that. The thing that I have You know, through this whole piece, but even prior to that, it’s just not I mean, I’ve become very good at kind of rolling with the punches. Like, for 10 years, we had 1000 fans at the ballpark. We were successful. We won more summer collegiate games and the other team in the country for 10 years in Willmar. And you were not on cruise control, but boy, things seem to feel pretty good. And then, and I think we’ve all learned through this experiences that you continued to get punched in the face. And nothing is really surprising anymore in terms of what happens. If you took you know, every time you faced adversity, if you took that too serious, I think we probably would have all lost our minds through this entire process. And so at some point, it almost becomes kind of comical, and you almost, you know, you want to know what the next challenge is ahead of you. It builds of anything and builds the confidence that you can overcome just about anything going forward, and so I think without a doubt, being able to spin off of, you know, problems at hand and move on from it is pretty good. I mean, my wife asked me all the time, I don’t know how in the heck you get through it. But it just you don’t take it real serious. I mean it, you know, the all of the problems that are happening are not life or death. And so, if you put things into perspective, and say, what’s the worst thing that could happen? You know, the thing that I thought of through this entire process was, what’s the worst thing that could happen? The stingers could fold. We wouldn’t have a team in Willmar, we would go get a job and work for somebody else. That’s the worst thing. Now I know that sounds horrible. But the sun’s still gonna come up the next day. The first 10 years were so special, that I think we had a laugh and been pretty proud with it. And it just wasn’t in the cards for us to maybe do another 10 years in. Ultimately, that could still happen. But, uh, you know, I don’t think that it will, but people say well, that’ll never happened? Well, it could. But that’s alright. I mean, we’ll figure out a way there’s been chapters in life as to, you know what 10 year span will be different than the other. And so we’ll make our, you know, our strongest attempt to make sure year 12 is more successful than your 11, which it will need to be. But ultimately, that’s from our business standpoint, that’s the worst thing that could happen. And, you know, we’ll make sure that it doesn’t, but if it happened, you know, we would move on. So

Curt Carstensen 39:29
And the variable, of course, the virus, which you have some control over, but always less control, because you never know who might be carrying it. You seem to have that season’s over, you seem to have avoided any catastrophes with that. So of the worst things that can happen looks like you did Well,

Ryan Voz 39:48
yeah. So we got through it. You know, things could have been way worse. We met with our staff and the players yesterday and just said, Hey, we pulled off 250 fans. For 25 home games, nobody else in the community was took that risk and try to pull it off. And as you know, by being a sports fan, there’s not much sports going on around the entire country that is having gatherings of 25 people or up to 250 people. So it was victories along the way, with a finish line of August 20. And we knew that once we got to August 20, we could sit back and kind of celebrate the fact that we were able to pull off some type of summer. So

Curt Carstensen 40:31
one last thought one last question that came to my mind when you’re observing a Minnesota Twins game with an empty stadium or the cardboard cutouts or you’re thinking about the Minnesota Vikings coming up, having had 250 fans at your games in a much smaller space. What would you be doing when you’ve done what would you advise can and should be done in those situations?

Ryan Voz 40:53
Yeah, it’s tough watching those games with the cardboard cutouts. You know, they have capabilities To bring in some fans, I believe, you know, the St. Paul saints just brought in 1500 fans with six pods at 250. So I got to believe there couldn’t be some fans at Target Field. Now I know they’ve elected four zero fans. But you know what we said there’s got to be a way to create 10 pods at Target Field and be at 2500 fans. And then you could charge $500 a ticket, and then you could give 100% of it or a portion of it to charity. Like you could turn this into a positive by giving. You know, I know that you you can’t go back to season ticket holders and give them tickets, but there’s got to be some way to put some people in those ballparks we’ve been able to do it safely. They’re all outdoor venues. For the most part. I you know, there’s probably a couple I’m trying to think there’s any dome stadiums I think they’re all retractable roofs. to be able to give some fans some experience. I know there’s reasons behind why they probably don’t have any fans and there’s more to it than just opening up letting in 2500 fans but and doing it correctly, but it’s tough to watch. I mean, it’s great that baseball is back. It’ll be a fun kind of a postseason, I believe seeing more teams into it, and where it shakes out. But, um, you know, if you’re a sports fan like you and I are, it’s great to be able to see some type of sports taking place because for those months in the spring where there was nothing, I can only watch. I mean, now I’m watching the other night cornhole championships, and ESPN I mean, so, you know, I started a journal. I’ve only written in a once but I’m about 12 pages in to record everything that’s happened in 2020. I think it’d be interesting if everybody did the same thing. And then in like, 50 years, you pull these things out and you read like what people were going through in 2020. Because it’s, it’ll be hard to believe.

Curt Carstensen 42:52
You mentioned some of the weird things you see the cardboard cutouts of the games, no fans, I watch During the overnights and I see the Korean baseball organization on ESPN, they have fans there, but they’re like, sitting by themselves seven or eight seats apart. But it probably works. Okay. It’s just Can you do it with confidence? Is it worth the risk this thing? For the Stingers like you kind of needed to do something it was important to, to keep things going. Major League Baseball probably can take a season off from fans.

Ryan Voz 43:22
And they got the television, you know, so they’re able to have the TV rights and be able to do that thing. But yeah, because people asked us would you play the season? If you had zero fans? We wouldn’t. there just would have been way too much rest way too much expense. As much as we want to give these players an opportunity to play that hadn’t played since March. Financial wouldn’t be able to pull it off to have no fancy. That’s why the 250 made sense. We were hoping to be able to go off but it didn’t happen. So we made the best of it.

Curt Carstensen 43:51
I know we got to get going Ryan, thanks for joining me today and we’ll catch up soon.

Ryan Voz 43:54
All right. Appreciate it. Thank you.