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Volume 26 No. 179

Coronavirus and Sports

The league and MLBPA addressed issues such as the timing and logistics of a second Spring Training
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
The league and MLBPA addressed issues such as the timing and logistics of a second Spring Training
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
The league and MLBPA addressed issues such as the timing and logistics of a second Spring Training
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

A multihour meeting between MLB and the MLBPA yesterday was the "first step in addressing the complex issues facing a restart for the sport amid the coronavirus pandemic, though the discussion didn't involve any economic components pertaining to player compensation," according to sources cited by Jesse Rogers of ESPN.com. Items addressed included "timing and logistics for a second spring training, potential rule changes, roster sizes and transaction rules" and a "good bulk of the meeting revolved around COVID-19 testing protocols, including contact tracing and response procedures in case of positive tests." Also addressed were "ballpark access procedures moving forward, as well as health and safety issues away from the ballpark" (ESPN.com, 5/12).

MEETING DETAILS: The AP's Ronald Blum cites sources as saying that the meeting "lasted between three and four hours," as MLB officials "showed slides during the meeting and the union delegation, which included players, caucused and asked questions." League officials "explained how they would use a lab in Utah to give the sport its own testing ability." They also "expressed concern about a second wave of the coronavirus in the fall and their worries it could force cancellation of the postseason" (AP, 5/13). In Boston, Peter Abraham reports while there is "no formal deadline to reach an agreement, the initial proposal is for spring training to resume in June for approximately three weeks" (BOSTON GLOBE, 5/13). In N.Y., Joel Sherman reports for now, both sides are "portraying inflexibility" on the revenue-sharing issue. Whether that is "rhetoric or entrenched positions that can’t be overcome will be revealed in the coming weeks" (N.Y. POST, 5/13).

NEXT STEPS: THE ATHLETIC's Ken Rosenthal cites sources as saying that MLB "soon plans to present the union with an 80-page document outlining potential health and safety protocols." The document is "expected to cover a wide range of topics, including testing, procedures for the possibility a player or staff member becomes ill and guidelines for clubhouses, hotels and transportation." The protocols will be "subject to union input and approval." Once the MLBPA receives the league’s document on health and safety, it "likely will need time to digest the plan and prepare a response" (THEATHLETIC.com, 5/12).

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE? On Long Island, David Lennon writes the "good news" about yesterday is that MLBPA Exec Dir Tony Clark at least "took the call" from the league. One would have "half-expected Clark to just text" MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred "with a 'See you in '21.'" Lennon: "We're lucky it didn't go down like that." As long as the two sides are talking, there "remains a chance of us seeing real, live baseball again" (NEWSDAY, 5/13). But in Providence, Bill Koch writes for MLB, strikes and lockouts were the "norm for decades," and it "feels like we're building toward another flashpoint this week" (PROVIDENCE JOURNAL, 5/13). In Chicago, Daryl Van Schouwen writes the "last thing baseball's image needs is a squabble between the two sides, but that's what we're probably going to get" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 5/13).

POINT, COUNTERPOINT: In Houston, Brian Smith writes, "At least MLB and its billionaire owners presented a plan to bring baseball back to life in time for July 4." Clark instead "opted for optics and couldn't have made the union initially appear any worse." Clark "sounded like just another Scott Boras, yelling for more, more, more when millions of everyday Americans are suddenly struggling with less" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 5/13). But the CHRONICLE's Jerome Solomon writes if a "financial hit must be suffered, I’d lay that on the owners," as their "crying about financial woes in this situation draws little sympathy from this corner." Whatever owners lose this season, they will "get out of your pockets down the road" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 5/13).

Boras said his biggest fear would be for his players' rights if they agreed to revenue sharing
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Boras said his biggest fear would be for his players' rights if they agreed to revenue sharing
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Boras said his biggest fear would be for his players' rights if they agreed to revenue sharing
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

MLB agent Scott Boras said that all of his players are "prepared to play right now and are willing to squeeze in as many as 124 regular-season games through October" under the condition that they "will not accept a penny less than the prorated salaries they agreed to following negotiations with the owners on March 26," according to Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY. Boras, who represents about 100 MLBers, said, “After this agreement was reached, you can’t come forward with a dynamic and say, 'Hi, I want to privatize the gains and socialize the losses.'" Boras said that the "biggest concern he hears from his players is not for their safety and welfare but their rights." The players "trust that MLB will have plenty of testing and safety measures during the season but, considering they are taking the health risk, believe it’s unfair to ask them to assume any further financial hits" (USA TODAY, 5/13).

DO THE RIGHT THING: ESPN's Jeff Passan said the “seeming compromise in this situation is not changing the money because players are already taking an enormous haircut if they’re doing this on a prorated basis.” The “easy solution” is “deferrals.” Passan: “If owners can’t pay the cash right now because they are cash flow poor, just push it off into the future. I know it’s more debt for them to carry and no one wants to carry debt right now. These are billionaires. … If ever there is a time for billionaires to do right, it’s now” (“Get Up,” ESPN, 5/13). Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal said the owners “had to know” proposing a 50/50 revenue split “would trigger the players." Rosenthal wondered if this is a "formula they think can work on a one-time basis” or is this “simply a negotiating position to start off here and get to another level that is more acceptable to the players." But Rosenthal added, “I'm confident that they're going to get an agreement. ... Both sides recognize they have to play, otherwise they're in a bigger hole for the 2021. They can't go dark for 18 months of the sport. It doesn't work financially (and) it doesn't work in terms of the public" ("Speak for Yourself," FS1, 5/12).

FACED WITH A CHOICE: In L.A., Dylan Hernandez writes if the owners "have a problem with the players’ skepticism" over their proposal, they have "only themselves to blame." It is "not as if the owners have shown they prioritize the long-term health of the sport over their short-term bottom lines" (L.A. TIMES, 5/13). In DC, Thomas Boswell writes the owners and players "face a choice that is not a choice at all." They can "fight, waste time and end up with zero games and $0.00 in total revenue for the year," as opposed to the $10.7B they split last year. Or they can "figure out how to play those 78 (or whatever) regular season games." Then they "would probably end up with nearly" $4B this year, and that is "a lot better than $0.00" (WASHINGTON POST, 5/13).

MAKING HEADLINES:

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker weighed in on MLB's return plan and "seemed to suggest players should accept" the owners' proposal for the "sake of fans who miss the game," according to Paul Sullivan of the CHICAGO TRIBUNE. Pritzker yesterday criticized players for "holding out" for more money while other Americans are "sacrificing" during the pandemic. Pritzker said he realizes the players "have the right to haggle over their salaries," but U.S. citizens "deserve to get their pastime back." Pritzker: "We need that back, that normalcy back, and hope they'll be reasonable as they negotiate. But I must say I'm disappointed in many ways that players are holding out for these very, very high salaries" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 5/13).

NOT READY YET? Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said that she "doesn't believe Chicago will be ready for 'large crowds in a ball field' by July and said any plan to start the professional baseball season must be done in consultation with local cities." Lightfoot: "I can't predict where we’re going to be in July. I think there's got to be a lot of coordination and conversation from MLB, the local teams, with their relevant city and health departments. I'm not going to support something that puts people at risk." However, Lightfoot said that the city "can consider the possibility if it can be done safely" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 5/13).

Discussions during a recent call centered on health and safety concerns for players and staff
Photo: NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
Discussions during a recent call centered on health and safety concerns for players and staff
Photo: NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
Discussions during a recent call centered on health and safety concerns for players and staff
Photo: NBAE/GETTY IMAGES

NBA owners and execs on a BOG call with Commissioner Adam Silver yesterday were "encouraged about the league's progress toward minimizing health risk upon a return and the league office's positive conversations" with the NBPA about the "players' desire to eventually restart the season," according to sources cited by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.com. Discussions during the call "centered on health and safety concerns, including the goal of getting team officials and players comfortable with the idea that a positive test for the coronavirus upon a return would not shutter play." Wojnarowski: "The question remains: How many positive tests would be too many?" Sources said that once the NBA "formalizes a return to play, the league indicated to teams that the plan would be to standardize coronavirus testing among the 30 teams." For now, the NBA is "allowing teams to use a variety of tests." Meanwhile, sources said that in regard to the format in a return to play, there still is "no decision on the form that would take with the 30 NBA teams." There was "growing confidence among owners on the call about how players were responding to the return to practice facilities." Sources said that the league "believes it will have 22 of its 30 facilities open by Monday" (ESPN.com, 5/12).

MAKING THEIR VOICE HEARD: YAHOO SPORTS' Chris Haynes cited sources as saying that some of the NBA's "biggest superstars formed a united front" to resume the season during a private conference call Monday. Sources said that all parties were "in agreement to take the court with proper safety measures once the league is given the green light to commence." Sources said that Thunder G and NBPA President Chris Paul "arranged the call" that included LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kawhi Leonard, Stephen Curry, Damian Lillard and Russell Westbrook. Haynes writes the group's decision is "expected to hold significant weight in the decision-making process for the rest of the league's players when it’s time to deliberate on whether to restart the season" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 5/12).

SOME CONFUSION: In L.A., Broderick Turner notes some NBAers yesterday "received a group text" from NBPA reps "asking how they felt" about completing this season. One player "estimated about seven out of 10 players want to finish the season." The player said, "But 30% is a big number. And what do you say to somebody who says, 'You know what, I just don't feel safe'? It's hard to argue that" (L.A. TIMES, 5/13). However, in N.Y., Mark Fischer cites a source as saying that there was "miscommunication within the union and that the poll was unauthorized." The NBPA in a statement said it is "not engaging in and has not authorized any formal poll of its players" (N.Y. POST, 5/13).

The PGA Tour has sent its Health and Safety Plan to players "outlining how events will be managed when play resumes on June 11 at the Charles Schwab Challenge," according to Rex Hoggard of GOLFCHANNEL.com. The central tenet of the plan is a "layered testing approach that will begin with a questionnaire for players, caddies and other officials, along with temperature testing" and a nasal swab/saliva test.

The plan consists of the following tenets: 

  • Players and caddies will be "sent a pre-travel screening test and will also be tested when they arrive in a tournament city, likely at a host hotel." After that, "daily questionnaires and temperature screenings will be applied."
  • Testing will be "required as a condition of competition, similar to the current drug testing requirements."
  • Results for the nasal swabs will "take 24-48 hours and those waiting for results can still practice and play but will not have access to other onsite facilities."
  • Those who "test positive will not be allowed to continue with the competition and, per federal and local health guidelines, they will be isolated for at least 10 days." A player who "tests positive after making the cut at an event will receive last place earnings."
  • A “bubble” of players and assorted personnel will be tested. That list includes "players, caddies, Tour officials, select ShotLink and tournament staff, clubhouse staff and independent trainers" (GOLFCHANNEL.com, 5/12).

TOUR TO PROVIDE PPE: GOLFWEEK's Steve DiMeglio noted the PGA Tour will "provide face covers/masks and disinfectant wipes for all personnel, volunteers, players and caddies." The Tour will "cover the costs of the tests for players, caddies and essential staff." In addition, the Tour will "provide a chartered flight from each tournament site to the next, but those flights will require players and caddies to submit to viral testing within 24 hours of departure." Only passengers who "test negative for the coronavirus will be allowed to board the flight" (GOLFWEEK.com, 5/12). Golfer Kevin Streelman said by chartering flights, the Tour is "trying to keep our bubble nice and tight" (GOLFWEEK.com, 5/11).

ESSENTIAL PERSONNEL ONLY: GOLF DIGEST's Brian Wacker noted only those "deemed essential -- approximately 1,100 people in total -- will be allowed on-site, with roughly 400 of them to be subjected to testing." Family will "not be allowed on-site, nor will agents or managers." Coaches and interpreters will be "allowed but must follow social distancing guidelines of staying six feet apart, never having direct contact with the player or touching his equipment." It is also "expected that players, caddies and essential staff would be housed in a designated host hotel to create a controlled environment; however, exceptions such as RVs, rental homes approved by the Tour, or a player staying in his own home would be permitted." There will also be "media center guidelines, which include limiting the number of media on-site to approximately 40 people, spread out in an acceptable manner." TV and broadcast personnel will be "scaled back" (GOLFDIGEST.com, 5/12).

Monahan has made clear that testing is a prerequisite to returning to competition
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Monahan has made clear that testing is a prerequisite to returning to competition
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Monahan has made clear that testing is a prerequisite to returning to competition
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

PLAYERS READY TO GO: GOLF.com's Alan Shipnuck notes the PGA Tour Players Advisory Council last week voted 16-0 to "push forward with the revised schedule, which calls for Colonial to be the first tournament back beginning on June 11." However, many questions remain, beginning with whether the Tour "can obtain enough testing kits." PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan has made clear that is a "prerequisite to returning to competition," though tests "remain scarce to the public." The first four events "will be played without fans and the Tour is pushing the players to accept a streamlined approach during those tournaments." Streelman said he feels "more confident we're going to play" after hearing from Monahan last week: "It's not 99% sure, but it's not 65% either. Somewhere in between" (GOLF.com, 5/11). The Tour today said there are about 25 players currently living outside the U.S., and the Tour is working with the federal government to help with the return of those players and caddies by the mid-June restart (John Lombardo, THE DAILY).

Without students on campus, it would be difficult to proceed with football and other fall sports
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Without students on campus, it would be difficult to proceed with football and other fall sports
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Without students on campus, it would be difficult to proceed with football and other fall sports
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

The Mountain West Conference and presidents from its three members in the California State Univ. system (CSU) -- Fresno State, San Diego State and San Jose State -- released a statement through the league indicating that "no decisions on a football season or any other fall sports have been made at this point," according to Robert Kuwada of the FRESNO BEE. Yesterday's statement came just hours after CSU Chancellor Timothy White said that its campuses "would not reopen in the fall." Fresno State in a separate statement following the CSU announcement said that it was "closing campuses to in-person classes in the fall" but added that its Fall '20 Planning Task Force was "evaluating operational needs on campus, including athletics." Kuwada notes without students on campus, it "would be difficult to proceed with football and other fall sports including women’s soccer, women’s volleyball and men’s and women’s cross country" (FRESNO BEE, 5/13). ESPN.com's Kyle Bonagura reported the separate Univ. of California system (UC), which includes Cal and UCLA, "has not fully committed to the same step as the CSU system." But a spokesperson for the UC system told L.A.-based KCBS-TV it is "likely none of our campuses will fully reopen in the fall" (ESPN.com, 5/12).

FALL IN PHASES: In San Diego, Kirk Kenney notes San Diego State "remains committed to fielding fall sports" despite the announcement that most fall classes will be conducted online in the 23-school CSU. SDSU AD John David Wicker said, "I don’t know that it necessarily impacts us at all. We knew that we were going to be in some form of virtual classes this fall, anyway. They’re definitely still going to have classes on campus." Wicker indicated that he has been "developing a plan to begin bringing student-athletes back to campus starting on July 7, which coincides with the start of the school’s second summer session." Kenney notes not all student-athletes "would return at once," as they "would be phased in, beginning with football players as a 'test case,' because they normally are the first athletes to return to campus." Wicker added that NCAA Chief Medical Officer Dr. Brian Hainline "provided some optimism in comments made Monday during a Mountain West AD’s meeting." Wicker: "He was encouraged by some of the things that are happening with the ability to develop accurate testing" (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 5/13).

Emmert has a call with all D-I commissioners once a week and talks with them individually daily
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Emmert has a call with all D-I commissioners once a week and talks with them individually daily
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Emmert has a call with all D-I commissioners once a week and talks with them individually daily
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

NCAA President Mark Emmert said that he "won't mandate or oversee a uniform return to college sports," which leaves decisions on start dates to state officials and school presidents, according to Heather Dinich of ESPN.com. Emmert yesterday said, "It will be the local and state health officials that say whether or not you can open and play football with fans." Yesterday, several Pac-12 football coaches "expressed support for an NCAA-mandated uniform start to the season while on a video conference call with reporters." This followed Penn State coach James Franklin's comments last week that it "would be helpful for the NCAA to give some national guidelines in addition to what each state and university determines." Emmert said, "These are localized decisions. Local campuses have to decide: Are we opening up, and are we bringing students back to play sports? The NCAA doesn't mandate that, nor should it. The schools themselves have to make those choices." He added that he has a formal call with all 32 D-I commissioners "at least once a week, and he talks to individual commissioners daily" (ESPN.com, 5/12).

PAC-12 PROBLEM: L.A. County Public Health Dir Barbara Ferrer said that the county's stay-at-home order is "likely to extend through July." The AP's Ralph Russo notes that "could leave Pac-12 members USC and UCLA waiting until at least August before they begin preparing." None of the Pac-12 schools are part of the California State Univ. system, which said yesterday it is preparing for a virtual fall semester (AP, 5/13).

As many as five MLS clubs "will decide over the next 24-to-48 hours whether to use funds granted to them through the U.S. federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP)," according to sources cited by Maurer & Stejskal of THE ATHLETIC. The sources said that "at least 12 clubs submitted a PPP application and had it approved by the government, but that at least seven will not use the money that they were granted." The full list of clubs that will not use their PPP money "isn't known." But multiple sources said that LAFC is "one of the teams who ended up declining the funds after its application was approved." The sources added that the group of clubs "still weighing whether to accept federal funding" includes DC United, Inter Miami, Orlando City, the Union and the Sounders. A source said that one MLS club "had received a loan" of approximately $1.5M, and that other clubs had "received larger payments based on their payroll expenses" (THEATHLETIC.com, 5/12).

Bundesliga will be the first pro league in Europe or North America to resume play after the virus outbreak
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Bundesliga will be the first pro league in Europe or North America to resume play after the virus outbreak
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Bundesliga will be the first pro league in Europe or North America to resume play after the virus outbreak
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

The NFL “will be watching closely” when the Bundesliga returns to the pitch this weekend, as Germany’s top soccer league “will provide a potentially vital blueprint for how pro sports can return safely,” according to Bob Glauber of NEWSDAY. The Bundesliga will be the “first pro league in Europe or North America to resume play after the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.” While there are some “important differences between the sports,” the league’s successful return “could be a boon to the NFL.” The start of the NFL season “still is a long way off, but if the return of soccer in Germany turns out to be a success, it will be one more step in the right direction” (NEWSDAY, 5/9). NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo noted the NFL has been in “communication and will be in communication with sports leagues around the globe.” Garafolo: “They're going to be watching (the Bundesliga) closely, and so will the NFL Players Association. Because as much as this is going to be a league decision, it's going to have to involve the players as well” (“NFL Total Access,” NFL Network, 5/12).

ALL EYES ON YOU: ESPN’s Taylor Twellman notes that there is “some real anxiety” around Bundesliga, as league officials “know all eyes around the world, not only in the soccer world but in the sports world in general,” are watching what happens when they resume play. Germany has “been very progressive and transparent with testing,” and that has given the Bundesliga the "option and the opportunity to restart.” Twellman: “The hardest thing about having the conversation (of returning to play) in the United States right now is the access to testing. No one knows that answer, and until you have that answer, I can't definitively look in this camera and say it's going to happen. I think it will because I think by the time they get there, testing is going to be readily available and the players have to take some risk” (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 5/13).

The Penguins plan to "institute a four-month unpaid leave of absence program for a number of employees because of the COVID-19 pandemic," according to Matt Vensel of the PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE. The furloughs will begin June 1, and those impacted "will remain team employees and receive full health benefits." They also will be "eligible for unemployment and stimulus benefits." Penguins President & CEO David Morehouse will take a 50% pay cut "as part of the four-month program, and other senior executives and coaches will take 25% reductions." The Penguins said that all employees "were paid in full over the past two months." The team has created an "assistance fund for affected employees facing economic hardships" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 5/13). There was "no word as to the number of employees impacted by this decision" (TRIBLIVE.com, 5/12).

The Mariners will “reduce the salaries of employees under MLB’s Uniform Employee Contract,” including Exec VP & GM Jerry Dipoto and manager Scott Servais, in an “attempt to avoid layoffs or furloughs,” according to Ryan Divish of the SEATTLE TIMES. Employees under a UEC were told by the team that there “would be no layoffs or furloughs for UEC employees through the end of the baseball year," which is Oct. 31. All benefits will continue through that time. To accomplish that, UEC employees earning more than $60,000 “must accept a minimum-salary reduction” of 20%. Others with larger salaries “will take a higher percentage reduction” (SEATTLE TIMES, 5/13). THE ATHLETIC’s Corey Brock noted the cut “will affect roughly 60 people employed by the team in various departments.” Dipoto said that the news “was largely met with a sense of relief, especially with the possibility of layoffs and furloughs off the table for now” (THEATHLETIC.com, 5/12).

Nothing is more elemental to the business of sports than equipment, without which games cannot be played. On the most recent episode of “SBJ Unpacks: Weathering COVID-19,” our Terry Lefton speaks to Sports & Fitness Industry Association President & CEO Tom Cove about the effects of the pandemic on sports equipment manufacturers and marketers.

On the sports equipment industry’s landscape overall:
Cove: It is extremely tough. There are pockets of real positives, but the basic idea is that the industry was pretty healthy and it just dropped off. Even in the times of previous recessions, 2008-2009 and others, it went slower. It didn’t go from 100 to zero. It’s been a very difficult time, particularly for seasonal sports. If you’re in the spring sports, baseball and lacrosse, it has been extremely tough. We’re hopeful for football. At the same time, there are positives. The fitness industry is doing pretty well.

On areas of growth within the industry:
Cove: Online is up significantly, and that’s been the trend anyway. In most cases, it still doesn’t come close to covering what we’ve lost in terms of physical. The trend is fortified and magnified. What’s moving is home health fitness, whether it’s jump ropes or as big a thing as treadmills, rowers and everything in between. One of my board members who does fitness equipment said, ‘If I have it, I can sell it.’ The unfortunate part of it is that the fitness season is during the winter, so the people were coming out of the fitness business and their inventories were low. If they’d been coming in, they would have a much bigger supply chain and they could fulfill it.

On the timeline for recovery, and why May and June are key months:
Cove: Spring sports are gone, lost. That’s pretty obvious at this point. Summer sports are unlikely to happen except in pockets, but the coming back to societal engagement is going to happen in June, July and August. The most important indicator is, are people going back to work? Are they figuring out ways to not be normal again? … The sense is, the end of May and the month of June are going to be critical for the rest of the year to determine whether by fall we can play sports, stores will open and people will buy stuff. We do know from our surveys that people really want to get back to sports.

SMU QB Shane Buechele's GoFundMe page to "assist in Dallas' Covid-19 relief efforts reached its goal" of $50,000 yesterday. Buechele will "deliver the check" to Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson tomorrow. Several SMU coaches, administrators and their families "contributed to the efforts as well." In total, 172 donations were made (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 5/13)....Texans WR Randall Cobb donated $10,000 during Astros 3B Alex Bregman's 24-hour video game livestream on Twitch (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 5/13)....The Call of Duty League Florida Mutineers are "teaming with a host of NFL stars" and others for a charity event hosted by the team. Former Univ. of Miami players DeeJay Dallas and Ahmmon Richards are among those who "will share a virtual battlefield" today. The prize money totals $25,000, with "all going to COVID-19 charities" (MIAMI HERALD, 5/13).