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Volume 26 No. 178

Coronavirus and Sports

Arizona is home to 10 Spring Training ballparks, including the Peoria Sports Complex
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Arizona is home to 10 Spring Training ballparks, including the Peoria Sports Complex
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Arizona is home to 10 Spring Training ballparks, including the Peoria Sports Complex
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

MLB is reportedly considering a scenario in which all 30 teams play out an abbreviated regular season without fans in Arizona, and D-backs President & CEO Derrick Hall said "we are willing to do this and there's a way to make it work," according to Nick Piecoro of the ARIZONA REPUBLIC. Sources said that it is "one of many ideas being considered" by the league. Hall said, "This is going to be a place where hopefully, if we do things right, where we keep that curve flat, where it doesn't become too much of a problem, where the summer is going to heat up a little bit. There's ways to utilize Chase Field. And, of course, we're more than willing to do so." Piecoro writes "much would need to happen for the idea to become a reality, starting of course with a steep reduction in new coronavirus cases." The plan also would "call for constant testing of players and staff, which could mean diverting resources from public health care." Hall "vacillated between calling the idea 'realistic' and 'far-fetched'"(ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 4/7). MLB in a statement today said it has been considering "numerous contingency plans" for resuming the season, and while it has "discussed the idea of staging games at one location as one potential option, we have not settled on that option" (MLB).

FIGURING OUT LOGISTICS: ESPN.com's Jeff Passan cites sources as saying that the Arizona plan could allow MLB to "start the season as early as May." Sources said that players, coaching staffs and other essential personnel "would be sequestered at local hotels, where they would live in relative isolation and travel only to and from" the ballpark. But sources also said that the May return date "depends on a number of concerns being allayed, and some officials believe a June opening day could be more realistic." Sources said that the logistics to pull off such a plan "would be enormous and cumbersome on the league side and require the buy-in of players," who are expected to be "skeptical of separating from their families for an indefinite amount of time -- perhaps as long as 4½ months." But Passan notes there still is "hope among leadership on both sides" (ESPN.com, 4/7).

BIG OPPORTUNITY FOR MLB? THE ATHLETIC's Ken Rosenthal wrote in the nation's current state, the quarantine plan "might be baseball's best chance for returning as quickly as possible." But that plan "might not be viable at all" (THEATHLETIC.com, 4/3). YAHOO SPORTS' Mike Oz wrote MLB's plan "would come with dozens of questions," but it "would accomplish two very basic things: Players could play and baseball fans would have something to watch." It "wouldn't be 'normal' but it would be close enough." There is "another potential win here, and it could be huge for baseball: For a sport that's been slowly losing its grip on a once-loyal audience, a captive and hungry group of sports fans could be what baseball needs to become America's Pastime again." It is a "moment baseball needs, quite honestly." The game is "economically healthy, but its place in sports culture isn't nearly as healthy" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 4/6).

TOUGH SELL: In N.Y., Bill Madden noted there is a similar “Wasserman Plan” being floated by Casey Wasserman and the union, in which they would "play the season in four Arizona spring training complexes with no fans in attendance." But it is "never going to fly with the owners," unless the players are "willing to play for the minimum wage, which they are not." The owners "do not appear to have any appetite for a season" with empty ballparks (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 4/5).

NICE THOUGHT: In N.Y., Joel Sherman notes MLB officials "did bat around the idea of staging a Home Run Derby as a way to derive some revenue during the coronavirus pandemic while providing baseball entertainment to help keep the sport vibrant in fans' minds." But the "logistic problems just appear too great." Ballparks "would have to be opened" and it is unclear "how many municipalities are ready to do that." But the facilities are "just part of the problem." For now, it is "all a little too much to pull off for MLB" (N.Y. POST, 4/7).

Exhibition games between teams in the Korean Baseball Organization are scheduled to begin April 21
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Exhibition games between teams in the Korean Baseball Organization are scheduled to begin April 21
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Exhibition games between teams in the Korean Baseball Organization are scheduled to begin April 21
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

The Korean Baseball Organization at present serves as a "test case being watched by sports leagues around the globe," as it forges ahead with a plan to take advantage of South Korea's "thus-far-successful response" to mitigating the coronavirus pandemic, according to Passan & Gonzalez of ESPN.com. Exhibition games between KBO teams are "scheduled to begin April 21," and following six preseason games, the regular season "could begin." Meanwhile, the Chinese Basketball Association "delayed its scheduled restart," and Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan "paused its return" after three players tested positive for COVID-19. The "same level of care in Korea that allowed the KBO to find itself in this situation" also is the "greatest impediment to its return." Former MLBer and KBO Lotte Giants P Dan Straily said, "If anybody, anybody -- if the No. 1 starting pitcher to the person cleaning, security, R&D -- anybody gets sick in that time, we postpone two weeks." Still, Passan & Gonzalez noted regardless of the KBO's return date, it "might not provide much of a road map for MLB," as the U.S. has "failed to replicate almost all of Korea's institutional successes that allow the KBO to even consider playing again" (ESPN.com, 4/6).

CHANCE TO FILL THE GAP: In N.Y., Tyler Kepner notes if the KBO season were to begin with fan-less games, it would "greatly stifle the atmosphere in a league known for sustained chanting and singing by fans, no matter the score." However, former MLBer Jake Brigham, who now plays in the KBO, said that the league "would still be an appealing alternative for American fans craving baseball." He said, "I understand there’s a lot going on and it’s terrible. But the KBO has wanted to boost their exposure worldwide, and if they can do it in a safe manner, there’s a real opportunity for the Korean players to have that worldwide exposure, so people can understand there are some incredibly talented people in this league” (N.Y. TIMES, 4/7).

Silver said he knows less -- in a way -- than he did when the NBA suspended operations nearly one month ago
Photo: NBA
Silver said he knows less -- in a way -- than he did when the NBA suspended operations nearly one month ago
Photo: NBA
Silver said he knows less -- in a way -- than he did when the NBA suspended operations nearly one month ago
Photo: NBA

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said he has told league employees that the association "should just accept that at least for the month of April, we won’t be in a position to make any decisions" regarding a potential season restart. Appearing from his home on the new “#NBATogether” show with host Ernie Johnson last night, Silver said he knows "less -- in a way -- than I did" when the league first suspended operations nearly one month ago. Silver said COVID-19 is moving "potentially faster than maybe we had thought at that point” and, “therefore, may peak earlier." Silver: "What that means in terms of our ability to come back at some point in late spring or summer is still unknown to me." But Silver said the league making no decision in April "doesn’t mean internally, both the league and the discussions with our players and the teams, we aren’t looking at many different scenarios for restarting the season." Silver: "Honestly, it’s just too early, given what’s happened right now, to be even able to project or predict where we’ll be in a few weeks.” He also said in a perfect world, the NBA would "try to finish the regular season in some form and then move on to the playoffs." Silver noted the NBA could play games “without fans,” which is “something we looked a lot at.” But the league is in "listening mode right now."

UNITED FRONT: Silver discussed his conference call this weekend with President Trump, noting it was an "old-school conference call with no video." The call lasted about 45 minutes, with the President making "some introductory remarks" about the "fact that he is a passionate sports fan and the fact that he missed seeing live sports on television." Silver said the different sports commissioners took turns updating the President, and it was "more just a chance for us to say that we stand behind the country, we want to be helpful (and) we talked a little bit about what we are doing now." Silver said when working from home, like everyone else, he spends his day on an "assortment of different technologies and video conferencing calling." Silver: "How will this change the NBA experience? What will game production look like ... and will there be kinds of access that we hadn't thought of before now that everyone has a better understanding of this video technology?"(“#NBATogether,” TWITTER.com, 4/6).

NBA and NBPA officials in recent weeks have been "collaborating in assessing the viability of multiple blood-testing devices for the coronavirus that could provide accurate results within a matter of minutes, a process that would hopefully enable the league to track the virus in what is considered a critical first step toward resuming play in the near future," according to Baxter Holmes of ESPN.com. Sources said that the league and union have been "looking at what those familiar with the matter describe as 'diabetes-like' blood testing in which someone could, with the prick of a finger, be tested quickly, and results could be gained inside of 15 minutes." The sources "stressed that this matter is in the exploratory phase and that there is no clear timetable as to when the efficacy of any such device might be proven." One NBA GM said, "Rapid-testing results are key to return to work, return to sports, everything" (ESPN.com, 4/6).

The NHL has not wavered in its stance that it wants to resume play this season
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
The NHL has not wavered in its stance that it wants to resume play this season
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
The NHL has not wavered in its stance that it wants to resume play this season
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

The NHL’s BOG had a phone call with Commissioner Gary Bettman and Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly yesterday, and the picture on what the league does with its season "remains cloudy at best," according to Bruce Garrioch of the OTTAWA CITIZEN. At some point, the NHL will have to "walk away from its hope of finishing the final 10 percent of the season and if the teams do come back they’d go straight to a playoff-type tournament after a short training camp to get back into shape." There has been "speculation" there "could be as many as 24 teams with those just outside the wild-card spots remaining in the picture." The talk among league insiders is that Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, is "on the radar screen if they decide to go this route." However, this is "all a long way from reality" (OTTAWA CITIZEN, 4/7). Canucks COO Trent Carroll said, "They’re exploring everything. And they haven’t got down to any specific one yet. It’s still in the exploration stage. You just plug along and hope to figure something out when things open up again" (Vancouver PROVINCE, 4/7).

WHEN TO PLAY: ESPN.com's Emily Kaplan noted the NHL has "not wavered in its stance that it wants to resume play, even if it means playing for the Stanley Cup in August." But as the days go on, that "seems less and less likely." ESPN.com's Greg Wyshynski noted the NHL is "adamant that the time to make a decision on that is much further down the road." The Tokyo Games postponement "opened a window for the NHL to play this summer." Not only does that "clear scheduling conflicts for many television partners, but it also removes the almost insurmountable competition for fans' attention if the season were to relaunch in late July" (ESPN.com, 4/6).

UFC President Dana White said he is "a day or two away from securing a private island" in an unknown location to host weekly events amid the coronavirus pandemic. White said, "I locked this venue up for two months. I'm setting up shop here. We're going to be pumping out fights every week." He added the MMA outfit is "getting the infrastructure put in now" on the island. White said the reasoning behind getting the private island is because he "won't be able to get international fighters, all of them, into the U.S." for potential events. White: "I'm going to start flying them into the private island and doing international fights from there." White said UFC will be "back up and running" by April 18 for UFC 249, but they are taking all necessary precautions. White added there "won't be any fans" at UFC 249 and "everybody is going to be pretested and tested and tested and tested." White said UFC is "going to make sure" that we have "100% healthy athletes, healthy athletic commission people, healthy judges, referees." White: "We're going to make sure that everyone's going to be safe before, during and after the fights" ("TMZ Sports," TMZ, 4/6).

ISLAND OF ADVENTURE: ESPN's Brett Okamoto notes White "doesn't want to tell anybody" where the island is, including the participants themselves. White wants to collect the fighters “in a few areas around the country, get them on a plane (or) transport of some nature, take them to the location of the fight, have them compete and then leave not even knowing where they were." White over the last three weeks has been "working meticulously" to keep UFC 249 together. Okamoto: "One thing that he realizes is any leaks of information made his job more difficult because there was just more attention, more of a spotlight, people looking under a microscope and contacting the people putting that are putting this together” (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 4/7). YAHOO SPORTS' Jack Baer wrote as far as coronavirus solutions go, the private island idea is a "new one." The NBA, MLB and EPL all have "reportedly discussed, with varying progress, the idea of holding games or matches in isolated stadiums." However, the venues in mind all are "essentially training areas already used by the leagues," not a private island (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 4/6).

OTHER FACTORS AT PLAY: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Soma Biswas notes "behind efforts to keep UFC fights going" are the outfit's $1.5B contract with ESPN and $2.3B in "debt the UFC took on in recent years." The deal with ESPN "gives the network exclusive rights to air UFC fights and added on rights" to PPV fights. UFC "took on debt when it was bought" by Endeavor and private-equity firms KKR & Co. and Silver Lake. UFC's contract with ESPN "requires the company to put on 42 events" in '20, but so far, the UFC only "has held seven" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 4/7).

IS THIS NECESSARY? YAHOO SPORTS' Kevin Iole wrote the "risk/reward ratio" for UFC putting on its event on April 18 "seems way out of whack." As much as people "love sports, no one can seriously argue that the UFC or the NFL or NBA or whatever sport you want to name is essential." So for White and the others to "leave home to put on this show will mean violating" Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak's stay-at-home order. Iole: "It just seems the risks in going ahead with this fight aren't appropriate" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 4/6).

Scott was credited with $5.3M in compensation in the conference’s FY '18 tax returns
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Scott was credited with $5.3M in compensation in the conference’s FY '18 tax returns
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Scott was credited with $5.3M in compensation in the conference’s FY '18 tax returns
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

The Pac-12 is "implementing a series of cost-cutting measures, including pay cuts for executives and layoffs at the Pac-12 Networks," according to Jon Wilner of the San Jose MERCURY NEWS. The moves include a 20% "salary reduction" for Commissioner Larry Scott and 10% "cuts for members of his senior staff in both conference and networks divisions." The cuts will "remain in place for the remainder of the school year, then be revisited this summer." Scott was credited with $5.3M in compensation in the conference’s FY '18 tax returns. Additionally, an internal memo said that the Pac-12 Networks will "reduce its workforce by eight percent as part of 'a new strategic and financial restructuring plan.'" Wilner notes the move is "expected to impact approximately a dozen full-time employees," who were notified yesterday morning. The Pac-12 also is "imposing a hiring freeze across both the conference and network divisions, with exceptions for 'critical functions'" (San Jose MERCURY NEWS, 4/7).

While coronavirus’ impact on college athletics has been profound, for many universities, the level of financial devastation they face will come down to the success of the '20 football season. On the most recent episode of the "SBJ Unpacks -- Weathering COVID-19" podcast, our Bill King sat down with Tom McMillen, the former NBAer and congressman who now heads up the association of D-I athletic directors, to discuss the impact that missing the season could have on college athletics, in addition to other dilemmas brought on by the virus.

On the impact coronavirus will have on athletic departments' bottom lines:
McMillen: If you don’t have football, which really would be the worst case, I think we saw a majority of our ADs say there would be a 20% decrease in revenues. ... It actually could be worse depending upon circumstances. If you don’t have ticket sales, if you don’t have television, if you don’t have a whole host of things that are associated with football, sponsorships, even donations, will be impacted by the market slides and the markets falling.

On college athletics’ historical resilience and ability to stay afloat during times of crisis:
McMillen: The Great Depression lasted 10 years, and college football played through that. This is going to be maybe a six-month episode in American history hopefully, and hopefully we get it under control and life can resume. My parents grew up in the Depression, and it dramatically changed their view of the world, and I think there will be some of that lingering effect afterwards, but this is one of those temporal situations that we will get over, albeit with lots of pain.

On college athletic departments’ finances:
McMillen: On the financial security side, it’s pretty understandable that as football goes, so goes next year’s budgets. That was pretty clear in all the survey numbers and on top of all that, there seems to be more of an appetite for some cost containment measures if they can be put in place. That has traditionally not been the case, but there seems to be some appetite to deal with the arms race.

All professional tennis tournaments are currently suspended until at least July 13
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
All professional tennis tournaments are currently suspended until at least July 13
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
All professional tennis tournaments are currently suspended until at least July 13
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

The ATP and WTA tours are "examining contingency plans for post-coronavirus rescheduling, including the possibility of pushing back the end of the 2020 season," according to Rachel Eddie of the Melbourne AGE. The tours are "working together on ways to assemble a new calendar," including the prospect of "moving postponed tournaments into weeks that already have events and making the season longer than it already is by playing past the tours' originally slated November finishes." All pro tennis is suspended "at least until July 13." Meanwhile, Tennis Australia is "making contingencies in case the 2021 Australian Open can't go ahead as normal" next January. Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley said that the organization is "preparing for the possibility that international players will have to undergo quarantine, or for the tournament to go ahead without fans in the stadiums" (Melbourne AGE, 4/7).

NO FANS BETTER THAN NO TENNIS: TENNIS.com's Matt Cronin noted one issue concerning tennis' return is "large crowds at tournaments, which are currently prohibited in a lot of countries." Both players and tournaments "have repeatedly expressed they do not want to play behind closed doors, but that could allow an easier restart." Tennis broadcaster Ted Robinson: "At some point, it seems imperative for tennis to play, regardless of spectator access. Livelihoods are at stake. Will many players will be forced to think about leaving tennis for another career during this long hiatus? Let alone coaches, physios, umpires. Individual tournaments may have revenue concerns to address. But my view is that we need competition as soon as safely possible” (TENNIS.com, 4/5).

TAKING A PAGE FROM RACING: REUTERS' Sudipto Ganguly reports organizers of the canceled Madrid Open will stage a "virtual competition to raise funds for struggling professionals amid the coronavirus shutdown." The tournament had been set for next month, but now will take place "on the Tennis World Tour videogame" April 27-30. Participants have yet to be confirmed, but plans have 16 men's and women's singles players in "each draw" and offer a purse of $162,000 for both. The winners "will decide how much they want to donate to their fellow professionals while an additional 50,000 euros will go towards reducing the social impact of the COVID-19 pandemic" (REUTERS, 4/7).

LAFC has produced a PSA "addressed to the people" of L.A. in which a "roster deep in All-Pros and All-Stars asks fans to stay together, stay united and observe social-distancing guidelines," according to Kevin Baxter of the L.A. TIMES. Recently, LAFC Dir of Digital & Content Will Walsh approached the professional sports franchises in the Southland, "plus the two major colleges, and asked for a volunteer from each organization to tape a public-service announcement" repeating L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti's guidelines for dealing with COVID-19. The PSA, which each contributor "recorded on his or her cellphone," features Angels CF Mike Trout and Dodgers P Walker Buehler; NHL Kings RW Dustin Brown and Ducks D Josh Manson; and Galaxy MF Jonathan dos Santos and LAFC MF Eduard Atuesta, who "speak in the video in both Spanish and English." It also features Lakers F Kyle Kuzma, Clippers G Landry Shamet and WNBA L.A. Sparks F Nneka Ogwumike; Rams QB Jared Goff and Chargers S Derwin James; and XFL L.A. Wildcats WR Nelson Spruce, UCLA men's basketball coach Mick Cronin and USC football S Talanoa Hufanga. The players "emphasize that people must wash their hands, avoid public gatherings and hoarding of food, and stay away from crowded stores." Manson says, "We are all in this together." Then, several athletes "join in with a chorus of 'this is bigger than sports'" (L.A. TIMES, 4/7).

CHI-TOWN SOUND: In Chicago, Colleen Kane reports city Mayor Lori Lightfoot "walked onto Soldier Field" yesterday to "launch an ad campaign called 'We Are Not Playing' in conjunction with the Bears, Blackhawks, Bulls, Cubs, Fire, Red Stars, Sky and White Sox." The campaign will include digital ads, billboards and social media messages from players "encouraging people to comply" with Illinois' stay-at-home order. The teams today "tweeted out photos of their empty stadiums, with the words 'We are not playing and neither should you.'" White Sox LF Eloy Jimenez and Cubs C Willson Contreras were "among the players to immediately share messages." FCB, Chicago, developed the campaign (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 4/6). Meanwhile, in K.C., Pete Grathoff noted the Royals on Friday released a PSA featuring Chair & CEO John Sherman, Senior VP/Baseball Operations & GM Dayton Moore and several players (K.C. STAR, 4/4).

Along with the vital PPE, Wickenheiser said that Volvo donated the use of six trucks and drivers
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Along with the vital PPE, Wickenheiser said that Volvo donated the use of six trucks and drivers
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Along with the vital PPE, Wickenheiser said that Volvo donated the use of six trucks and drivers
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Maple Leafs Assistant Dir of Player Development Hayley Wickenheiser secured "critical supplies for front-line health-care workers fighting the coronavirus," picking up "over 200,000 masks and gloves" after making a plea for donations via social media. Actor Ryan Reynolds "assisted Wickenheiser's quest with a tweet of support and offers to donate have been pouring in." Along with the vital personal protection equipment, Wickenheiser said that Volvo "donated the use of six trucks and drivers" (TORONTO STAR, 4/7). 

ORGANIZATIONS KEEP GIVING: The Predators Foundation starting yesterday began distributing "168 grants totaling $700,000 to local nonprofits this month" (Nashville TENNESSEAN, 4/7)....Philabundance yesterday announced that Flyers Charities is "donating $250,000 to fight hunger across the Philadelphia area." The donation will allow the organization to "feed 160,000 people struggling with food needs" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 4/7)....The Charlotte Hornets Foundation is "pledging $250,000 to area charities and 1,000 volunteer hours in response to coronavirus relief efforts" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 4/7)....Pacers Owner Herb Simon and Colts Owner Jim Irsay are "teaming up to help those in need during the COVID-19 pandemic." If $200,000 is "donated by Thursday through a campaign led by United Way of Central Indiana," the pair will "add $420,000 to the pot" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 4/7)....Bills GM Brandon Beane is donating $20,000 in addition to "teaming with the United Way of Buffalo & Erie County to create a contest in hopes of encouraging others to donate to the recently established WNY Covid-19 Community Response Fund" (BUFFALO NEWS, 4/7).

PLAYERS CONTINUE TO HELP: Celtics F Jayson Tatum yesterday "pledged to match up to $250,000 in donations to the Greater Boston Food Bank." Tatum and Wizards G Bradley Beal, a fellow St. Louis native, also have "pledged to team up to match another $250,000 for the St. Louis Area Foodbank" (BOSTON GLOBE, 4/7)....Raiders CBs Nevin Lawson and Trayvon Mullen, who both grew up in Florida, yesterday partnered with Chick-fil-A to "provide more than 250 meals for emergency room COVID-19 response teams at four Florida hospitals" (LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, 4/7)....Free-agent QB Jameis Winston has "teamed with surgeon Dr. Scott Kelley to launch a toll-free hotline to inform the public about the coronavirus" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 4/7)....Univ. of Tennessee men's basketball Gs Jordan Bowden and Lamonte Turner "established fundraisers to help organizations in need during the coronavirus pandemic." As of yesterday morning, "both fundraisers had almost reached their goals" (Knoxville NEWS SENTINEL, 4/7).

A NOTE OF ENCOURAGEMENT: Hockey HOFer Bobby Orr yesterday "sent a heartfelt letter of encouragement" to workers at Massachusetts General Hospital "dealing with the onslaught of coronavirus patients." Orr "referred to the MGH workers as 'heroes' for their ongoing fight against the pandemic," which as of yesterday afternoon had "claimed some 75,000 lives worldwide, including 260 in the Bay State" (BOSTON GLOBE, 4/7). Read the full letter.