Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 26 No. 134

Coronavirus and Sports

Rob Manfred said MLB will have to think creatively to get as many games played as possible
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Rob Manfred said MLB will have to think creatively to get as many games played as possible
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Rob Manfred said MLB will have to think creatively to get as many games played as possible
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred hopes the league will return to the field “at some point in May,” though he knows that could be altered due to unknown developments related to the coronavirus pandemic. During an appearance last night on ESPN’s “SportsCenter,” Manfred said, “We'll have to make a determination depending on what the precise date is as to how much of a preparation period we need.” He added the “goal would be to get to as many regular-season games as possible and think creatively about how we can accomplish that goal.” Manfred did acknowledge a “credible number of games” are needed in the regular season. He added, “We should have a postseason format that focuses on providing the most possible entertaining product to our fans at a very, very difficult time in our history. Overall, I think our goal is to play as many baseball games as we possibly can given the limitations associated with the public concerns.” More Manfred: “I don't have some absolute number in my mind that's a make or break. I think we have to evaluate the situation. I also think that we need to be creative in terms of what the schedule looks like, what the postseason format looks like. … It does give us an opportunity to do some different things to experiment” ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 3/25).

DEAL CLOSE ON ECONOMIC ISSUES: USA TODAY's Bob Nightengale cites sources as saying that MLB and the MLBPA are “close to reaching an agreement on critical economic issues with hopes of salvaging the majority of the 162-game season,” which could mean the World Series would be played in late November. The deal would include a commitment from MLB and the players to play as “close to a full regular-season schedule as possible, providing the COVID-19 crisis dissipates and permits them to even start a season.” The two sides would like to play at least 100 games, scheduling regular-season games through October and including weekly doubleheaders.” They have also discussed the idea of “expanding the current playoff format to help offset the loss of income, while acknowledging that if cold weather becomes an issue in November, they could move the World Series and playoff series from cold-weather cities to a neutral site.” The sides also are “close to reaching a resolution” regarding service time. A source said that if there is any form of a season, players most likely would “receive credit for a full year as if it was a regular 162-game season” (USA TODAY, 3/26).

TIME TO GET CREATIVE: ESPN's Mike Golic said MLB "may have to get creative depending on how many games you want to get in and how the regular season is going to be looked at” ("Golic & Wingo," ESPN Radio, 3/26). THE ATHLETIC’s Rosenthal & Stark wrote MLB is “staring at an opportunity … to devise a template unlike any other in the game’s history” and to “create a laboratory out of a shortened season and test a wide range of experimental ideas that could help energize the sport.” They offer several examples of what could be implemented (THEATHLETIC.com, 3/25). YAHOO SPORTS also takes a look at some experiments MLB could implement this season “that might stick around” in the future (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/25). But ESPN's Mark Teixeira warned that MLB needs to be "very careful with how much we mess with a game that’s built for a reason." While talk has included the idea of seven-inning games being part of scheduled double-headers, Teixeira said, "Nine-inning games are very important to a roster construction" ("Get Up," ESPN, 3/26).

NO DESIRE TO PLAY WITHOUT FANS: Playing in empty venues has been an option floated for all sports for when they come back, and Manfred unsurprisingly said MLB’s “preference would be to play with fans.” He said, “There are also significant economic issues. More than I think any other sport, we're dependent on our gate and our gate-related revenue. So obviously our preference is to have fans in the ballpark as soon as the public health considerations would allow it” ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 3/25). 

CHANCE FOR SPORT TO BOUNCE BACK: ESPN’s Jeff Passan said Manfred "sounds resilient right now" about returning as soon as possible, in part "so that the country can find something to look forward.” Passan: “It's been a really long time since baseball has been the national pastime for America. Football took over a long time ago. Now you look at baseball's opportunity to go and really be that thing that people can congregate around the TV looking toward and feel some sense of community when so much of our community has been lost to social distancing. If baseball comes back, and if it is the first sport to come back, it really has a chance to make an impact” ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 3/25).

BASEBALL NEEDED NOW MORE THAN EVER: In Baltimore, Peter Schmuck writes no corners "should be cut when it comes to the safety of the general populace." However, there will "come a time when life will return to some semblance of normalcy and -- at that point -- MLB has a responsibility to reconstitute a season that goes well beyond protecting its own financial welfare." Considering the "long-term damage the pandemic will do to the overall economy, every job -- full-time or temporary -- that can be saved in any industry is critical to an eventual recovery." The worst "might be yet to come, but that’s why it’s so important for the National Pastime to make a strong comeback when the coast is finally clear" (BALTIMORE SUN, 3/26).

Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

MLB’s Opening Day has been pushed back indefinitely from what was supposed to be today’s start of the season, and the loss of Opening Day traditions “doesn’t begin to compare to the losses being inflicted by coronavirus,” but it “won’t make the day less … odd,” according to Phil Miller of the Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE (3/26). On Long Island, David Lennon writes this Opening Day is “going to be vastly different from any other in our lifetimes, and we don’t even want to consider the gloomy scenario of it never happening” (NEWSDAY, 3/26). In Denver, Mark Kiszla writes, “This might be the new normal, but that doesn’t stop it from feeling unnatural.” Rockies P Kyle Freeland: “When can we fire things back up and get things rolling again? I think that’s the question everybody wants to know” (DENVER POST, 3/26). In N.Y., Mike Vaccaro writes under the header, “The Pain Of No Opening Day” (N.Y. POST, 3/26). USA TODAY’s Bob Nightengale lists 10 things fans will miss without an Opening Day (USA TODAY, 3/25).

A DIFFERENT KIND OF FEELING: In Boston, Chad Finn writes Opening Day is a “representative of the lovely things sure to come, a reminder that after the long winter, warmer times are ahead, better times.” Finn: “This was supposed to be that happy, cathartic day. Instead, we wait, we wonder, and we worry” (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/26). USA TODAY's Gabe Lacques writes, "We have reached the point in the calendar where the eyes don't lie -- just peeking out the window lets you know what time of year it is, and what rituals you might be missing with a sports shutdown that's now in its third week" (USA TODAY, 3/26). In Cleveland, Paul Hoynes writes, “There will be other opening days, other seasons. The athletes who play this game are strong and resilient. So are the people who run it. They will figure it out because there is a bigger job to do now. The virus must be stopped and we all have to do our part” (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 3/26).

MORE IMPORTANT THINGS TO DO: In Tampa, Marc Topkin reports Tropicana Field on a normal opening day has about 1,000 people working there, but the ballpark now is “being considered a potential site for virus testing or as a mobile hospital, and is being used as a collection site for medical equipment.” Rays Owner Stuart Sternberg: “For now we are singularly focused on helping the region get through this crisis and we are putting our organization’s resources to that end” (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 3/26). Meanwhile, the Royals today launched their Royals Respond initiative "to help the Kansas City community deal with the virus outbreak." Several players have gotten in on the action, with Royals C Salvador Perez having filmed a PSA that "encourages fans to sing 'Take Me Out to the Ballgame' while they're washing their hands" (AP, 3/26).

IndyCar announced that the Indianapolis 500 has been postponed until Aug. 23 due to the coronavirus pandemic, while the GMR Grand Prix will take place July 4. The Grand Prix, which takes place on Indianapolis Motor Speedway's road course, could be part of a double-header weekend, as NASCAR's Brickyard 400 currently is scheduled for July 5. The Indianapolis 500 was set for May 24, its traditional home on Memorial Day weekend. IndyCar and IMS execs spent this morning and early afternoon meeting with employees and team owners to discuss the plans. THE DAILY first reported last week that IndyCar was making alternative plans for the 500 and Grand Prix due to the pandemic. While the postponements were something of an inevitability, they are still historic; the 500 has been run annually since 1911 and has only been canceled during World War I and World War II.

Don Fehr said union reps speak with NHL officials multiple times a day to stay up to speed
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Don Fehr said union reps speak with NHL officials multiple times a day to stay up to speed
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Don Fehr said union reps speak with NHL officials multiple times a day to stay up to speed
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr said that, like the league, the players "believe that whatever steps are taken to try and salvage what remains" of this season and/or the '20 Stanley Cup Playoffs, having a "full 82-game schedule in place for the 2020-21 season is critical," according to LeBrun & Burnside of THE ATHLETIC. Fehr said, "There is no posturing, there is no attempt, so far, to take advantage of this or that or the other." He added, "But practical and businesslike is the way that I would put it and, at this point, I would expect that to continue. We talk at one level or another to NHL people several times a day every day." LeBrun & Burnside noted while Fehr "confirmed that talks aimed at hammering out a new collective bargaining agreement have been put aside as 'there are more immediate things on the agenda,' he did suggest that this journey into the unknown with the league may help pave the way to not just a new labor agreement but could help forge a new relationship with the league." Meanwhile, Fehr said of his view of potential August hockey, "The question is not July or August hockey in the abstract. Is that a good time of the year to play it? The question is, if that’s when the time becomes available, does it make sense to play it?" (THEATHLETIC.com, 3/25).

HOLDING PATTERN: Fehr said of the NHL potentially allowing players to compete at the '22 Beijing Games, "Players and everybody else will have thoughts about how much the world has changed or if they're really certain that this makes sense to do this for health and safety reasons." He added, "In terms of what the NHL might do, in terms of games outside of North America, that will have to be determined based on what the facts are. My assumption is that if, and when -- and hopefully soon -- we get back to the point where the borders are opening in and you can have international travel, those kinds of concerns that we’re talking about will have been diminished to an extent that they won't be serious" (THEHOCKEYNEWS.com, 3/25).

PUSHED BACK: In N.Y., Brett Cyrgalis notes the NHL combine in Buffalo, awards event in Las Vegas, along with the draft in Montreal, "have been postponed." The league also "decided to extend the players’ self-quarantine from the original date of March 27 to April 4." Cyrgalis writes it "seems rather optimistic that the NHL and the Players' Association will be able to work through all of the details needed to restart the season at any point without ruining the start" of the '20-21 season. Now that the Tokyo Games have been pushed back to '21, there is a "big broadcasting opening for NBC in late summer." The league's broadcast affiliate "certainly would love to have some hockey at that time, but it's hard to gauge whether that's going to be possible" (N.Y. POST, 3/26).

WORST IS STILL TO COME: NHL Chief Medical Officer Dr. Winne Meeuwisse yesterday said that he "expects the coronavirus pandemic to get worse before it gets better in North America and differences across 31 markets are likely to affect when players might get back on the ice." He added that it is "difficult to predict when cases of COVID-19 might peak or begin to decrease." NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said league officials ''continue to hold out hope that at some point we'll be able to resume play." But he added that it is also "too early to know whether fans would be allowed in arenas should that happen." The AP's Stephen Whyno wrote as much as the NHL "can do to try to stem transmission of the new coronavirus, it is at the mercy of state, provincial and local authorities in areas where regulations and lockdown protocols vary." Meeuwisse said, ''If the health authorities are vastly different in 31 different markets, it's going to be hard to have a unified approach as a league" (AP, 3/25).

Delaware North is "placing most of its full-time workers on leave as the Buffalo-based hospitality giant grapples with the deep blow to its business" caused by the coronavirus, according to Stephen Watson of the BUFFALO NEWS. The company yesterday said that effective April 1, it is "putting more than two-thirds of its 3,100 full-time employees on temporary leave." The workers "will receive one week of pay and eight weeks of benefits." Those full-time workers who remain "will do so at a reduced rate of pay that wasn't specified by the company, which has several hundred at its global headquarters." Delaware North Senior Manager of Corporate Communications Glen White said that the pay cuts "apply to top company executives -- including co-CEOs Jerry Jacobs Jr. and Lou Jacobs and their brother, Charlie, CEO of the company's holdings in Boston" (BUFFALO NEWS, 3/26). In Boston, Kevin Paul Dupont notes next week a total 150 employees of the Bruins and TD Garden "will see their paychecks shrink or disappear." Delaware North "detailed the rollbacks in what it termed a 'temporary business stabilization' plan for its 150 full-time workers employed across the two entities." A statement said that "workers under contract, such as Bruins management and coaches, will not be subject to rollbacks" (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/26).

COMING UP SHORT? In Boston, Christopher Gasper writes Bruins Owner and Delaware North Chair Jeremy Jacobs "resorted to his miserly ways this week" after being the "last NHL franchise to release a plan to compensate part-time team and TD Garden game day employees" during the shutdown. The Bruins' brain trust called the freezing of funds "temporary business stabilization measures" for Delaware North, which is just a "euphemism for pad-locking Jacobs's wallet as long as pucks are on pause." Jacobs is "not willing to sacrifice for the good of the economy," and he is "coming up short and cheaping out when it matters most." The Bruins have "barely done the bare minimum during this crisis," as they "aren't even following the lead of the Celtics, their TD Garden tenants and frenemies" (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/26).

STUBHUB ADJUSTS: ESPN.com's Thompson & Berko reported StubHub has "begun furloughing employees, making it the first major ticketing company to publicly admit to significant cost-cutting moves in the wake of financial damage caused by the coronavirus pandemic." While StubHub would "not provide specifics on the number of people furloughed," it was reported that StubHub furloughed as much as 67% of their workforce, leaving "less than 150 out of roughly 450 staffers until 'at least June'" (ESPN.com, 3/25).

A "tweetstorm broke out Tuesday over an email Minnesota United sent its part-time employees at Allianz Field," which encouraged recipients to "file for unemployment compensation" as the club's games have been postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to Andy Greder of the ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS. The email also "shared hyperlinks to let part-time employees know the club's partners -- Target, Cub and Pepsi -- are hiring temporary workers." Minnesota United yesterday said that this email was "plucked out of a series of four or five that intended to inform and communicate with a subset of about 100 workers -- mostly ticket-takers and ushers who work only a few hours at each Loons home game." These emails "did not go to contracted stadium workers in food, janitorial and security services nor full-time employees, who are working from home during the health crisis." Greder notes "handfuls of online reviews of this email saw it as crass" given the club's ownership group, which includes Owner Bill McGuire, T'Wolves and Lynx Owner Glen Taylor and the Twins' Pohlad family "among a dozen other Minnesota-based families, has not yet pledged to compensate part-time workers during its suspended season" (ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS, 3/26).

Jim Lites made the decision last week, noting he is "fighting like hell" for his employees
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Jim Lites made the decision last week, noting he is "fighting like hell" for his employees
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Jim Lites made the decision last week, noting he is "fighting like hell" for his employees
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Stars CEO Jim Lites and GM Jim Nill have "taken temporary 50% pay cuts retroactive to the NHL’s suspension on March 12 in an attempt to help alleviate financial stress on the organization," according to Matthew DeFranks of the DALLAS MORNING NEWS. A "sharp decline in revenue could lead to salary reductions and layoffs by organizations, and Lites’ and Nill’s efforts can help offset that slightly." Lites said, “I’m fighting like hell to make sure we do as much as we can for all of our employees, because they have worked really hard." DeFranks notes Lites and Nill follow Penguins President & CEO David Morehouse and Exec VP & GM Jim Rutherford as execs "taking pay cuts during the NHL’s pause." Lites and Nill said that their decision was "reached last week." Stars President Brad Alberts said that a decision on the rest of the season "would affect the organization’s decision on staffing" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 3/26). ESPN.com's Greg Wyshynski noted the Canadiens and Bruins this week "announced layoffs for salaried employees." The Devils also "announced they were cutting salaries by 20%," but Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment co-Founder Josh Harris "reversed that decision and apologized publicly for it" (ESPN.com, 3/25).

IN THE EYE OF THE STORM: In Raleigh, Chip Alexander reports Hurricanes President & GM Don Waddell yesterday "clarified an email he sent to full-time employees about their pay." Yesterday's email indicated that "non-contracted employees were being required to immediately use accrued vacation time or personal time off (PTO) beginning next week." Waddell in an interview yesterday said, "Everyone will get paid and we’ll figure it out after that.” He also said that the directive "applied only to next week and that the team policy would be reviewed on a week-to-week basis, adding that the employees’ benefits would not be affected." Waddell said Hurricanes Owner & CEO Tom Dundon's "goal through this whole process has been not to harm anyone or lay anyone off." The Hurricanes on March 17 said that they "would cover the lost wages of their PNC Arena staff and part-time events staff for the seven final home games of the regular-season." On Monday, the Hurricanes said that they were "temporarily closing the team offices at PNC Arena on Tuesday," adding that hockey and business operations "would continue, with employees working remotely" (Raleigh NEWS & OBSERVER, 3/26).

FOR THE FANS: In Winnipeg, Jason Bell notes NHL Jets season-ticket holders "already have skin in the game" for the suspended '19-20 campaign, and some have "already paid for a playoff run that might never materialize." But the team yesterday said that it "won’t ask customers to start shelling out" for the '20-21 regular season just yet. Bell notes some season-ticket holders "would have started paying monthly as of mid-April, however, the Jets are changing their payment schedule." The revised timeline "hasn’t been finalized." Season-ticket holders can, "if they prefer, begin monthly payments on April 15 but need to contact the Jets for that to happen" (WINNIPEG FREE PRESS, 3/26).

More than $1B in consumer capital is tied up in tickets to games that are stuck in limbo because of the pandemic
Photo: NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
More than $1B in consumer capital is tied up in tickets to games that are stuck in limbo because of the pandemic
Photo: NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
More than $1B in consumer capital is tied up in tickets to games that are stuck in limbo because of the pandemic
Photo: NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

NBA, NHL and MLB teams instead of giving cash refunds for tickets have "operated under their normal ticket policies for postponed or rained-out games -- holding the money as credit to be used whenever their games resume," but ticket holders "want their money back in cash, even if those games haven't yet been officially canceled," according to Brent Schrotenboer of USA TODAY. More than $1B in consumer capital is "tied up in tickets to games that are stuck in limbo because of the pandemic." Many fans have "shared their complaints on social media." Ticket holders also are "banging on the virtual doors of Ticketmaster and StubHub, which has a policy of not refunding games that haven't been officially canceled." StubHub said that if an event has been canceled, it "will provide a full refund." The problem for ticket holders is these events have been postponed indefinitely, not canceled. Refund policies can "vary by team, but many team websites and messages essentially tell fans to 'hold onto your tickets' for possible future use" (USA TODAY, 3/25).

WAIT IT OUT: In Denver, Kyle Fredrickson noted Avalanche and Nuggets season-ticket holders "received emails shortly after their respective league suspensions that essentially told fans to wait out a fluid situation for more details." NBA Commissioner Adam Silver on the league website wrote, "If games are not played or played in an empty arena, teams will work with fans on a credit for a future game or refund" (DENVER POST, 3/25).

Under normal circumstances, the LSU billboards would be encouraging fans to buy tickets or attend events
Photo: LSU
Under normal circumstances, the LSU billboards would be encouraging fans to buy tickets or attend events
Photo: LSU
Under normal circumstances, the LSU billboards would be encouraging fans to buy tickets or attend events
Photo: LSU

LSU football coach Ed Orgeron, women's basketball coach Nikki Fargas and gymnastics co-head coach D-D Breaux all are "doing their bit to help encourage folks to heed" Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards’ "state-wide edict to stay home during the pandemic," according to Scott Rabalais of the Baton Rouge ADVOCATE. LSU’s athletic department has "purchased tons of space on rotating electronic billboards across Baton Rouge and the state." In "normal times, those billboards encourage folks to buy tickets to an upcoming game or meet, celebrate an LSU athletic achievement or even provide in-game score updates." But currently, LSU is using the billboard time to "push out messages featuring Orgeron, Fargas and Breaux to encourage folks to stay home and heed the government edict." LSU Senior Associate AD/External Communications Robert Munson said that the coronavirus billboard campaign is "part of a larger effort by the athletic department to help get the message out." Rabalais notes Orgeron also "cut a TV commercial on coronavirus tips, and LSU play-by-play announcer Chris Blair has done a similar one for radio." Munson said that over time, LSU will "likely look to get other coaches involved in the coronavirus campaign" (Baton Rogue ADVOCATE, 3/26).

OTHERS GET INTO THE ACT: Many other college coaches and ADs have filmed PSAs aimed at telling their fans to listen to authorities regarding coronavirus protection. They include North Carolina men's basketball coach Roy Williams, Alabama football coach Nick Saban, Missouri football coach Eli Drinkwitz and UCF AD Danny White, among others (THE DAILY).

Only two weeks after hosting a Blackhawks game for the last time before the shutdown of the NHL season and the nationwide "intensification of the coronavirus outbreak, the United Center is radically shifting gears," as the arena will "soon host large supplies of medical equipment, food and other necessities in response to the pandemic." A spokesperson said that the transition "should be in full effect by next week, with more information and details available in the next few days." The United Center "could be a trendsetter among NHL and NBA arenas in large cities as it repurposes during the epidemic" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 3/26).

HELPING HANDS: Terry and Kim Pegula, the Buffalo Bills Foundation and the Buffalo Sabres Foundation will commit at least $1.2M to "area residents in need during the COVID-19 pandemic." The Bills and Sabres foundations will "contribute to the Western New York COVID-19 Community Response Fund." The financial commitment also will go to "FeedMore WNY (formerly the Food Bank of WNY and Meals on Wheels for WNY) and the Rural Outreach Center." The remainder of the aid will "support first responders, hospital workers and nurses while providing protective equipment and medical supplies." Meanwhile, Bills C Mitch Morse and his wife, Caitlin, have "pledged to donate $100,000 to FeedMore WNY." Bills QB Josh Allen also "will contribute $25,000" (THEATHLETIC.com, 3/25)....The Texans have "donated $100,000 to launch the Greater Houston Covid-19 recovery fund" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 3/26).

BASKETBALL OFFERS SUPPORT: LeBron James "loves Taco Tuesdays," and he and the LeBron James Family Foundation "fed 340 I Promise School students and their families chicken and beef tacos, rice, beans and tortillas with all the fixings." He also "helped an Akron restaurant that has been affected by coronavirus" (USA TODAY, 3/26)....Alonzo Mourning's Overtown Youth Center has "been a staple in the historically black neighborhood for nearly two decades." Mourning, in "partnership with food manufacturing and delivery company DeliverLean, led a group of volunteers in handing out free meals at Gibson Park in Overtown." Yesterday's food giveaway is the "first of many." They will "continue every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for as long as necessary" (MIAMI HERALD, 3/26)....Magic F Aaron Gordon is "taking action to help make sure Orange County’s students get what they need" during the coronavirus pandemic, making a "contribution to the Homeless Education fund at the Foundation for OCPS" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 3/26). 

MORE GOOD STUFF: Lightning C Steven Stamkos announced that the team would "create a fund to help support all of the part-time employees with the team and in Amalie Arena." Stamkos also said that the Lightning would "donate 500,000 meals to Feeding Tampa Bay" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 3/26)....Matthew Stafford and his wife, Kellywill pay for "$5,000 worth of free meals" for "workers at local hospitals, many of which are at or nearing capacity." Lions RB coach Kyle Caskey and his wife, Kayla, also are "raising money through a virtual food drive, with a goal of $20,000 to provide roughly 60,000 meals to people in need through Gleaners Community Food Bank (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 3/26). 

EXECUTIVE INNOVATION: Warriors VP/Government & Public Affairs Yoyo Chan has "communicated daily with San Francisco officials about the city’s response to the spread of the respiratory disease," and her intel has "helped educate the nearly 500 Warriors employees working from home as they wrestle with what an extended hiatus in revenue could mean." The Warriors are one of the "few pro sports teams with a staffer who serves as a liaison between the organization and City Hall," and Chan is "emerging as one of the Warriors’ most promising young executives" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 3/26).