Pensacola social sports clubs welcome small returns while weathering COVID-19

Eric J. Wallace Pensacola News JournalPublished 7:01 AM EDT Aug 31, 2020It has been among the most trying mont

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It has been among the most trying months in the small business' history, but Kaboom Sports and Social Club is forging a path to the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

From mid-March to the end the of May, the company shut down completely. No revenue, equipment idle and little way to know when the pandemic might break to allow the return of the kickball, volleyball and other adult sports leagues that had grown to be part of Pensacola's vibrant downtown revitalization. 

It was a familiar situation for sports recreation clubs across the country.

FOLLOW UP: Pandemic-pummeled sports social clubs await Phase 2 reopening

According to a mid-summer report from the Sports & Social Industry Association, 49 percent of similar organizations suffered a complete loss of revenue while 81 percent of surveyed businesses reported between 75 to 100 percent losses. 

The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) helped Kaboom through months of no revenue, according to Kaboom SSC Director Aleacia Miller, even helping the organization get back onto its feet. 

Business returned in June's Phase 2 re-opening, but only in a restricted fashion. Bowling leagues returned to Cordova Lanes on Tuesday nights, a move that expanded after successful league runs. 

July saw the return of kickball and volleyball leagues, but the lineup is far from its pre-COVID-19 levels as three out of five weekday leagues have yet to see permit approval to return to operation. 

Despite the restrictions, the demand for organized adult recreation remains, according to Miller. Fulfilling that demand is a tall task, however. 

"With all small businesses, the future is always a little scary, but lately it has felt more in our faces," Miller said. "Not knowing when the bar industry will be reopening, we will be missing out on a lot of tag-team moments with our local community to produce social leagues and events.

“Luckily, Pensacola is a strong city and Kaboom SSC is here to stay with it.”

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Sports event management organizations like Pensacola Sports have faced similar challenges in resuming operations. 

Numerous annual youth events like Racquet Roundup and Kickstart Soccer were outright cancelled, while DeLuna's Open Water Swim and the Pensacola Beach Firefighter challenge were rescheduled. 

Other Pensacola Sports events have been completely revamped to become digital fishing tournaments or 5K runs, finding a niche despite the loss of the social interactions associated with events like the Bayou Hills Run. 

According to Pensacola Sports President/CEO Ray Palmer, the biggest question facing their events isn't participant demand, but confidence that the event will be cleared to run by local officials. 

“We see people want to do things, but they want a comfort level that you’re going to have it, and I think they obviously want to feel safe," Palmer said. "We proved with the fishing tournament that we can make it safe. And there are a lot of events happening that can make it safe, but we need the permits.

September will mark three months since Phase 2 reopening in Pensacola and, despite steady declines in case totals across the state in August, uncertainty remains over when the area will be ready for Phase 3. As seen in other counties around the state, the intensity of the virus remains varied depending on the area.  

One question that doesn't remain for Palmer and Miller is whether people are ready to return to social activities of old. 

“I think people want to participate around the state and country, but there are so many communities, like Leon County, that are still completely shut down," Palmer said. "Whereas Escambia County is pretty much open, but Pensacola is not granting permits. So it’s hit and miss, but I think there is a growing demand for these events."

Eric J. Wallace can be reached at or 850-525-5087.
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