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Volume 26 No. 174

Coronavirus and Sports

MLBPA has considered a system in which compensation is reduced and tied to revenues to be a cap
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
MLBPA has considered a system in which compensation is reduced and tied to revenues to be a cap
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
MLBPA has considered a system in which compensation is reduced and tied to revenues to be a cap
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

MLBPA officials said that the league's proposed revenue-sharing plan is a "non-starter," believing that "such a system amounts to a salary cap, while the league disagrees," according to Rosenthal & Drellich of THE ATHLETIC. MLB "wants to make a major (if temporary) change to the sport's economic system, basing salaries only for this season upon the percentage of revenues generated by the sport." But league officials said that the one-time arrangement "should not be considered a cap because it includes no minimum or maximum payroll." However, the union has "long considered a system in which overall compensation is both reduced and tied directly to revenues to be a cap" (THEATHLETIC.com, 5/11). USA TODAY's Bob Nightengale cites sources as saying that the "historic revenue-sharing plan is integral in order to address revenue losses with an 82-game season being played without fans beginning in July." MLB officials said that clubs are "expected to lose about 40% of their gross revenue from ticket sales, concessions and parking." Nightengale notes the proposal was "initially shared with owners Thursday, revised Friday with owners on their executive committee and was voted on" yesterday. Sources indicate that the owners' proposal also "outlines details on scheduling, with the likely postponement of the All-Star Game, which was scheduled July 14 at Dodger Stadium." Nightengale notes under the proposal, training camps would "begin in June with an opening day set July 1-4" (USA TODAY, 5/12).

OTHER DETAILS: In N.Y., Tyler Kepner notes to "minimize travel, teams would play only against divisional rivals as well as teams in the corresponding geographic division of the opposite league." The postseason "would expand to 14 teams, from 10, with two additional wild cards in each league." The club with the best record in each league "would earn a spot in the division series, while the wild cards and other division winners would stage best-of-three series to determine the rest of the division-series field" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/12).

RIVERS TO CROSS: ESPN.com's Jeff Passan cited sources as saying that concerns about MLB's "handling of testing and ensuring as safe a working environment as possible will be an issue broached by players" today and in the coming days (ESPN.com, 5/11). In Boston, Peter Abraham notes two issues are "seen as potential hurdles: health and safety protocols for players." The safety concerns "could prove to be more difficult to overcome given all the variables associated with travel and the governmental approval needed in different locales" (BOSTON GLOBE, 5/12). In Chicago, Scot Gregor notes players "want to make sure there is testing in place, but they also don't want to take needed testing away from those that need it in the public." Nationals P Sean Doolittle took to Twitter yesterday to express "major concern about the dangers of coming back." He wrote, "We don't have a vaccine yet, and we don't really have any effective anti-viral treatments. What happens if there is a second wave?" (Chicago DAILY HERALD, 5/12). ESPN’s Mark Teixeira said, “I have it less than 50-50 that we’re playing. I just don’t see all of the health and logistical issues getting worked out, as well as the financial issues” (“Golic & Wingo,” ESPN Radio, 5/12).

AROUND THE COUNTRY: USA TODAY's Lacques & Axon contacted the mayors of all MLB cities, as well as governors in select states, and the "roughly one-third who responded revealed a caution to bringing back sports before data indicate it is safe -- something that could be weeks and likelier months down the line." Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said it is a “possibility” to have baseball return this summer without fans. But Lacques & Axon note while some states "start to cautiously reopen their economies, still others have extended stay-at-home orders and maintained restrictions on the size of gatherings." How soon both of those could be eased will "go a long way to determining when sports can return." The 12 mayors’ offices that responded all indicated that health and safety "would guide their decisions," and none "could say when restrictions could be lifted" (USA TODAY, 5/12). California Gov. Gavin Newsom "declined to promise that the state’s five big league teams would be permitted to play in their home ballparks." Newsom: "We’ll see where we will be in July" (L.A. TIMES, 5/12).

The compensation conflict between players and owners could jeopardize the season
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
The compensation conflict between players and owners could jeopardize the season
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
The compensation conflict between players and owners could jeopardize the season
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

MLB has sent its return proposal to the players' union, but it will be a "darn shame" if baseball is on the verge of returning but the plan "ultimately strikes out because owners and players want too much cash for themselves," according to Brian Smith of the HOUSTON CHRONICLE. Hope "peeked through the gloom again" yesterday, but MLB's return will only take place "if the billionaires and millionaires are able to do what our contemporary political leaders far too often fail to: compromise." Smith: "Think 1994. But more painful, infuriating and depressing. We need sports back. We need baseball back" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 5/12). In Boston, Dan Shaughnessy writes the pandemic has "reminded folks how much they miss sports." MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred and the MLBPA "need to work this out nicely without their customary sabre-rattling." The compensation conflict between players and owners "has the potential to make all of America hate baseball at a time when the sport is already teetering on relevancy in today's society" (BOSTON GLOBE, 5/12). In St. Louis, Ben Frederickson writes to both the league and union, "Read the room. Better yet, read the news." That puts the "common man's tolerance for bickering between billionaire owners and millionaire players at ... somewhere around zero percent." If something has to stop baseball's return, "let it be the virus and not the vitriol between players and owners. Let it be health. Not wealth" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 5/12).

SHORTSIGHTED: In N.Y., Ken Davidoff writes the two sides "owe it to each other to engage in bona fide bargaining," and the players "owe it to themselves to be especially diligent as they weigh the pro of their compensation against the con of potential health consequences" (N.Y. POST, 5/12). In Tampa, John Romano writes the mood in baseball the past few days has "looked less like an industry pulling together in challenging times and more like a tone-deaf game of rich man's tug-of-war." While the "pot of gold is large, and the dispute is genuine," the idea that America's Pastime "could be held hostage during a pandemic because of contracts and profits is unseemly. And selfish. And shortsighted" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 5/12). ESPN's Jeff Passan said, “We’re in the middle of a pandemic right now, and if millionaires and billionaires can’t get together and figure out how to be a little bit less rich, there's a really big problem with this sport that’s going to chase it around for years and years to come." Passan: "If you screw this thing up, it is going to haunt your sport for a long, long time" ("Get Up," ESPN, 5/12).

ON THE SPOT: SPORTSNET.ca's Shi Davidi writes by leaking the proposal before its formal presentation to the union, "guaranteeing that the players will look like greedy bad guys if they push back amid alarming unemployment figures, the owners don’t really seem to be asking." It "looks like they’re trying to use the pandemic as a pretext to implement the salary cap that has so long eluded them." The owners have "put the players on quite the tightrope" (SPORTSNET.ca, 5/12).ESPN Radio's Mike Golic Jr. said, "This playing out in the court of public opinion ultimately ends up benefiting no one. … When I first saw that this plan was put out there, I went, ‘I can’t believe Major League Baseball would put this plan out because it’s going to put the players in the spot where if they push back at all they appear greedy’” (“Golic & Wingo,” ESPN Radio, 5/12).The Wall Street Journal’s Jared Diamond said, “The alternative of coming to an agreement is not playing and having the American public knowing you're not playing because the billionaires and the millionaires couldn't agree on how to split it” (“Today,” NBC, 5/12).

BOGGED DOWN? YAHOO SPORTS' Tim Brown wrote watching the two sides argue about money is "how we'll spend the run-up to baseball in the summer, if there is to be baseball in the summer." Brown: "Who loses the least. Who wins the most. Who threatens loudest. Who avoids the blame. Who got over on whom. Who believes they have suffered more" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 5/11). In San Diego, Bryce Miller writes this is the "moment of truth and conscience for a sport that loves marketing itself as a clip from 'Field of Dreams' while too often circling boardrooms like sharks away from the limelight." What the country needs is a "coming together of equally unprecedented scope." What the country "should not suffer is making this another fight over money" (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 5/12). In Detroit, Bob Wojnowski writes owners approving the proposal yesterday is "a start," but today the players receive it to debate it, which is the "difficult part, reaching agreement on a spate of safety and financial issues." Then comes the "sobering part: Nothing happens unless the virus approves it" (DETROIT PRESS, 5/12).

Games without fans seem like an inevitability, and there are many conversations going on between networks, leagues and tech companies to determine what those games will look and sound like for those watching at home. In the most recent episode of “SBJ Unpacks: Weathering COVID-19,” our Bill King and Eric Prisbell discuss what leagues, networks and tech companies are considering as they plan for broadcasts of games played without spectators, as well as the current state of negotiations around MLB.

On how technology could be used to create a more vibrant environment for fans watching games at home
Prisbell: Nobody wants to sit and watch empty stands, no matter what the product on the field or court is in that particular game. One of the technologies that’s really emerging with this circumstance is mixed reality. … There’s a variety of things that The Famous Group and other tech companies can do to change what viewers are seeing at home. One of those is if you virtually cover the empty seats and use mixed reality technology to do it. Imagine being at home watching a game where there’s no fans, say a basketball game, NBA Playoffs, and there’s a digital display of fans, almost like a video game where you see those digital fans in the crowd.

On whether there is potential for a virtual ticket that gives fans an at-home version of a premium seat 
Prisbell: There’s no doubt. Everybody that I’ve talked to, at least off the record, made clear of that in some way. The NBA did say, and they did want to stress, that they want to give an enhanced experience to all fans. Not just for season-ticket holders or for premium members; they want to reach all fans. I’m sure they’ll find a way to do that.

On arguments between MLB and the MLBPA that may jeopardize a July return to baseball
Prisbell: They have a couple weeks here to figure this out, to have negotiations with the union over medical protocols, other issues, where the games are played, what the postseason will look like, but most notably the compensation element. Those discussions are not expected to be smooth. They’re not expected to be over in a short amount of time. I’d be surprised if they were. There’s certainly tension between the two sides that’s been there for a while, and both sides seem hunkered down and not willing to budge on this issue.

The fate of minor league baseball is "more precarious than ever," as the economic realities of the ongoing pandemic have made MiLB appear increasingly "more open to accepting a widely debated plan" by MLB to overhaul the whole farm system, according to James Wagner of the N.Y. TIMES. The two sides in recent weeks have "discussed MLB taking over MiLB's independent operations." However, even before the "full force of the pandemic shut down sports in March, there were signs that minor league officials were coming around to accepting it." A month after MLB and MiLB in late January "traded yet another round of barbs in letters and statements," MiLB President Pat O'Conner "barred team owners and officials from speaking to the news media without his office's approval as negotiations ramped up." Minor league owners "were asked to tone down their appeals to Congress." The "biggest reason for MiLB's changed tone" was the "growing belief that MLB could exercise its nuclear option, walk away from the existing structure and form its own farm system." That "would jeopardize all minor league teams." With the prospect of a lost '20 season, some MiLB teams have been "eager to wrap up negotiations sooner rather than later," partly so a '21 schedule "can be made and they can start booking moneymaking nonbaseball events such as concerts and festivals" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/12).

Adam Silver last Friday told players the current CBA “certainly was not designed to endure a pandemic”
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Adam Silver last Friday told players the current CBA “certainly was not designed to endure a pandemic”
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Adam Silver last Friday told players the current CBA “certainly was not designed to endure a pandemic”
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

The NBA and NBPA extended the 60-day window that preserves the league’s right to terminate the current CBA until the end of September, as the coronavirus pandemic has created a “number of issues” that need to be addressed, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. The current deal expires after the ’22-23 season. The extra time allows the two sides to “really go through and have a better sense of what the financial projections look like.” That includes both the salary cap and luxury tax for the ’20-21 season. NBA Commissioner Adam Silver last Friday told players the current CBA “certainly was not designed to endure a pandemic.” Wojnarowksi: “Here's what the union doesn't want. They don't want free agency where there's no salary cap space at all. The teams don't want a salary cap that drops and would put as many as 25 of their teams into luxury tax, so they may have to artificially negotiate some numbers that might play out over a few years of adjusting for this big economic hit this season.” The NBA could complete the ’19-20 season and possibly the ’20-21 campaign without fans present, and 40% of the league’s revenue “is built around game night gate receipts, fans buying tickets, concessions, parking, merchandise.” Wojnarowski: “That is a significant part of the revenue split between the players and the league, and the idea of the league not having fans … changes the dynamic of having a 50/50 revenue split” (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 5/11).

NEEDING TO WORK TOGETHER: ESPN’s Brian Windhorst noted the NBA “cannot afford to have a labor issue in addition to a virus issue,” which is why Silver “has worked day-by-day, hand-in-hand with the union.” Windhorst: “He ultimately is going to need them as much as he needs anybody else, and that’s why you’re going to see these two sides continue to try to work together in the coming months” (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 5/11).

FIGHTING A LOSING BATTLE? In Dallas, Tim Cowlishaw writes there is “much work to be done” for the NBA to complete this season. Cowlishaw: “I hope that Silver and reasonable minds on the players’ side can roll up their sleeves, reach a solution that seems impractical right now and get back to work. I just don’t expect it to happen until the tipoff for the 2020-21 season” (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 5/12). Shaquille O’Neal is among those to say the NBA should not complete the ’19-20 campaign, but ESPN’s Michael Wilbon disagrees with that sentiment, noting “there's money at stake” for the players (“PTI,” ESPN, 5/11).

MLS under its Orlando plan "would welcome teams for workouts and multiple matches per day, which ESPN platforms would carry," as the league eyes "opportunities to bond with fans through behind-the-scenes packages and interactive engagement on ESPN and the league's digital platforms," according to Steven Goff of the WASHINGTON POST. It is "unclear whether the league's other TV partners, Fox Sports and Univision, would show games." Sources said that players "would not be allowed to bring their families." Goff writes for those with children, it "would place a long-term burden on wives, and in general, put emotional strains on relationships." The league also would "have to consider the health and safety of hotel and stadium employees, bus drivers, security and TV crews, and accredited media." Presumably, MLS "would have a contingency plan in place in case anyone tests positive." Meanwhile, the league has "braced for not playing any games until September, at the earliest." League officials have said that they "would consider playing a truncated schedule into the winter and holding MLS Cup at a predetermined, warm-weather site in early 2021" (WASHINGTON POST, 5/12).

American Airlines Center could implement several measures to protect fans once they can return
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
American Airlines Center could implement several measures to protect fans once they can return
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
American Airlines Center could implement several measures to protect fans once they can return
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Mavericks employees have “recently discussed changes to operations and technologies” at American Airlines Center if fans “can return in limited capacity before treatments and preventions for the coronavirus are created," according to Callie Caplan of the DALLAS MORNING NEWS. The new normal at the arena “may start with staggered fan arrival.” Mavs Owner Mark Cuban in an interview with ESPN Radio 103.3 Dallas indicated that the team “could request fans sign up for an arrival time at a specific parking spot … where they’ll then receive a predetermined path to walk to their gate.” Once passing through arena security, a guide “could lead fans to their seats, separated from other guests.” Cuban said, “We may do that almost like Disneyland, do it like there’s a procession and you have people guiding you to your seat. … It may take a little bit longer for everybody to get into their seats to start the game, but we’ll accommodate that and go from there.” He added that the team has “considered requesting advance information from fans to understand whom they can sit near -- those they’ve already been quarantining with -- and how to space different groups.” Cuban noted that the franchise has “discussed new accessories, such as individual sneeze guards or ‘things that surround your whole neck, or lightweight hoodies so if somebody two rows behind you sneezes, you’re not freaked out’” (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 5/12).

NEW NORMAL AT NFL VENUES: USA TODAY's Jarrett Bell noted a "'new normal' is coming to NFL venues" when fans return. AMB Group CEO Steve Cannon, whose firm is the parent company for the Falcons and Mercedes-Benz Stadium, said, "You're not going to get fans in your building unless they feel they can be safe there, that they can gather in a safe manner. Some of those things we can control, some of those things we can't control." He added, "The definition of safety and security is now completely different." Cannon said that they are "considering designating specific gates for fans to enter that would depend on the location of their seats." Bell wrote a "more shocking" alternative "could be an appointed time window for fans to enter." Cannon: "In the same way that airlines do group one, two, three, four, five, six, we're going to create order" (USA TODAY, 5/10).

GRADUAL PROCESS: Yankees President Randy Levine said he would expect the process of allowing fans back into stadiums to be "gradual and there has to be social distancing." Levine: "Maybe you start with 20% of the fans, you keep six feet on each side, front and back ... and you take all the appropriate mitigation that you can to keep people safe" (NEWSDAY, 5/9).

The Warriors "laid off 1,720 part-time event staff in mid-March -- the largest cuts at a single Bay Area location to date" during the coronavirus pandemic, according to Connor Letourneau of the S.F. CHRONICLE. Warriors VP/Communications Raymond Ridder said that the employees "will return to work as soon as Chase Center is allowed to begin hosting events again." Letourneau notes employees were "notified shortly after the NBA suspended play March 11 to help curtail the spread of the coronavirus." The layoffs were "limited to employees whose job requires a game or event," and the Warriors are "providing supplemental relief grants and payments to those part-time employees who've been laid off." The Chase Center layoffs are the "largest confirmed local cuts to date." Meanwhile, the Warriors already stand to lose $25M "at the gate alone if its final seven home games are canceled, and that's on top of the revenue it's accustomed to netting -- and won't get -- from a potential playoff run" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 5/12).

Helton said answers to any questions about the season aren't expected for another six to eight weeks
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Helton said answers to any questions about the season aren't expected for another six to eight weeks
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Helton said answers to any questions about the season aren't expected for another six to eight weeks
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

USC football coach Clay Helton said that a conference-only schedule in '20 is "one possible option that's elicited 'viable discussions' among coaches and conference officials," according to Ryan Kartje of the L.A. TIMES. Helton said that the "all-conference" schedule was "one of many scenarios discussed in recent days as a possible path forward for college football" this year. Those discussions have been largely hypothetical thus far, but Helton said that he and the rest of the Pac-12 coaches are "still optimistic about the upcoming college football season." Helton said that answers to any looming questions about the upcoming season "aren't expected for another six to eight weeks" (L.A. TIMES, 5/12). Stanford football coach David Shaw on conference-only play said, "Hopefully there are some regional things that do happen as we get closer to the start of football, to where most of our states, if not all of our states, on the West Coast can be on a similar timeline" (SEATTLE TIMES, 5/12). Shaw said that he "doesn't necessarily agree with NCAA President Mark Emmert's belief that college campuses should be open before college sports can resume." Shaw said, "That's a great sentiment, but I don't know that that's going to rule the day when it's all said and done." He added, "The president of the United States is going to have to weigh-in, and I think every state governor is going to have a weigh-in. I think every president, provost, chancellor is going to have a weigh-in" (AP, 5/11).

FUTURE OVERHAUL? Arizona AD Dave Heeke said if there is no Pac-12 football in the fall, it will "financially decimate the conference." He added, "If it gets to that, you have to question the size of our staff and what we do with all those folks. We've basically cleaned out our war chest." Heeke: "There's no good road map for what we're facing. If this goes on for an extended period, the overall structure of college athletics is at risk. We'll have to repackage what we've done for many years" (ARIZONA DAILY STAR, 5/12).

Dogers President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman and his wife, Robin, along with Dodgers manager Dave Roberts and his wife, Trisha, have had "meals distributed to local hospitals from two restaurants" once a week since March. The plan was "hatched from a video chat between the four after Roberts and his wife had begun a similar effort in his native San Diego area." Friedman and his wife also have "helped get tablets and hotspots into the hands of inner-city children to participate in distance learning" (L.A. TIMES, 5/12). 

A WELCOME GIFT: The Royals "received 2,500 masks from Fanatics made from the same material as the jerseys the team wears." The club then "donated those masks to the University of Kansas Health System," filling a "need at the University of Kansas Cancer Center for patients who don’t have a mask or are riding shuttles on the campus." The Royals also have "donated food for healthcare workers this month" (K.C. STAR, 5/12).

WAITING GAME: The Golden Knights yesterday said that their "pledge to offer financial assistance to part-time employees at T-Mobile Arena hinges on the cancellation of the four regular-season home games that have not been played." The organization "committed a minimum of $500,000 to assist part-time arena staff and its own part-time employees whose jobs were affected when the NHL season was paused March 12 because of the coronavirus pandemic" (LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, 5/12).