MADISON, Ala. – The former CEO of the Trash Pandas minor league baseball team in Madison, Ralph Nelson, says he chose paying people over making a large payment to the City of Madison. He confirmed that to News 19 during an interview about his resignation.
The contract between BallCorps, the company that owns the Trash Pandas, and the City also calls for the Trash Pandas organization to pay Madison $1 million annually from “the Venue Revenue.” That agreement is how the team’s owners would repay the City of Madison for the $46 million it fronted to build the stadium.
Nelson told the Madison City Council in January 2021 the lack of baseball meant the club missed out on a projected $17.8 million in 2020 revenue. He said they had expected to pay Madison $1.4 to 1.5 million as part of its agreement. Nelson also said the club used the stadium for 175 other events, generating $1.79 million. Nelson also said the club has raised $4 million in merchandise sales since its inception.
Nelson confirmed with News 19 exclusively that the team has not paid the City of Madison the full $1 million guaranteed in the pair’s license agreement by the deadline.
If Madison wanted, they could take action against the lease agreement with the Trash Pandas. Nothing indicates that will be the case as of this writing.
Nelson claims because the team did not play any ballgames, they are not obligated to pay the City of Madison the $1 million dollar fee. Nelson says he was told that by the person who wrote the agreement.
“When I realized that we were not going to be able to meet the $1 million dollar guarantee, I sought legal advice and was given legal advice that gave me a great, great amount of comfort,” said Nelson.
The Trash Pandas claim they never laid anyone off during the pandemic. Nelson says he prioritized revenue to cover his people over the guarantee with Madison.
“I felt a responsibility to people who had picked up their lives to move here to create what I thought was the best staff in minor league baseball,” said Nelson.
Friday morning, the Trash Pandas released the following statement about the lack of payment:
“The Trash Pandas are working closely with the City of Madison and their independent audit team to confirm the amount due to the City, per the lease agreement. We maintain a strong partnership with the City of Madison and will be making our obligated payment, in full, upon completion of the audit.”Lindsey Knupp, Trash Pandas Vice President
The City of Madison released the following statement Wednesday evening:
“The City of Madison has been working closely with the Ballcorps team to ensure success for Toyota Field and the Trash Pandas. While this change in leadership comes at a critical time ahead of opening day, we are confident in the professional staff Ballcorps has assembled to lead us through the 2021 season. The City continues to work with Ballcorps to finalize the 2020 season audits as per our License agreement and has every confidence we will receive full payment once the audit is complete.”Madison City
The City of Madison and Mayor Paul Finley told News 19 they plan to expand upon the ongoing audit of the Trash Pandas 2020 financials, including the money not yet paid to the city. That could come as soon as Thursday.
Mayor Paul Finely released the following statement Thursday morning.
“The City of Madison has already received $165,738.12 from Ballcorps for the 2020 season and are in the final stages of the required audit as agreed to in the lease agreement. As confirmed from our Revenue Department, Ballcorps is current on their sales tax payments and there are no outstanding delinquencies. While the pandemic affected many businesses, the Trash Panda team successfully hosted over 175 separate community events throughout 2020 and have assured full payment to the City following the audit. Every organization is larger than one person, and our Rocket City Trash Pandas have an incredible staff ready to welcome our community into Toyota Field May 11th….. Let’s ‘Play Ball!’”Mayor Paul Finley
Nelson has been president and CEO of the Trash Pandas since his company, BallCorps, bought the Mobile BayBears and rebranded the team for its new home at Toyota Field in Madison.
Updated at 9:55 a.m. to correct 2020 revenue figures were based on projections for unplayed season.