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Volume 26 No. 174

Coronavirus and Sports

From a certain perspective, some big-market teams might be hurt the most by the sports hiatus
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
From a certain perspective, some big-market teams might be hurt the most by the sports hiatus
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
From a certain perspective, some big-market teams might be hurt the most by the sports hiatus
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

MLB if it begins the season is "likely to halt revenue sharing among the clubs," and while the decision is not final, it is the "expectation of owners and other top executives in the sport," according to Rosenthal & Drellich of THE ATHLETIC. Normally, teams share 48% of "net local revenue." All MLB teams "will hurt this year, but from one perspective, certain big-market teams might hurt the most." Those clubs "typically generate huge numbers in attendance, and subsequently, huge dollars in gate-related income." That money might "barely exist in 2020, as teams at least open the season with no paying customers." The big-market payrolls, however, will "remain large, and ultimately, baseball's richest will not have the cash flow to share the way they have in the past." One exec said, "It's not happening, because there are no revenues. That's why everyone's losses are the same. You look at the Marlins, they get $70 million in revenue sharing. That's gone" (THEATHLETIC.com, 5/15).

MANFRED SPEAKS: MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred on Thursday said losses "could approach" $4B this year for the owners if no season is played. Appearing on CNN, Manfred said, "Playing in empty stadiums is not a great deal for us economically, but our owners are committed to doing that because they feel it is important that the game be back on the field." Manfred was asked about the optics of the reported labor dispute between the league the MLBPA, and the commissioner downplayed the idea that the parties are in a "fight" about economics. He said, "Whenever there's a discussion about economics publicly, people tend to characterize it as a fight. I have great confidence that we’ll reach an agreement with the players association, both that it's safe to come back to work and work out the economic issues that need to be resolved." Manfred also said he is "hopeful" that MLB will "return to our business as we’ve traditionally known it" after the pandemic passes. Still, the league has "thought about changes," specifically toward "rules of the game" it will use in '20 (“CNN Global Town Hall,” CNN, 5/15).

INSIDE THE FINANCIALS: The AP's Ronald Blum cites a source as saying that lawyers for the MLBPA asked the league to "submit a slew of financial documents that detail the industry’s finances" as the sides negotiate a return to play. MLB owners on Monday "gave the go-ahead to propose basing players’ salaries on a 50-50 revenue split, which the union says is a salary cap and a framework players will never agree to." The type of financial disclosure the union asked for is "more common during overall collective bargaining talks, which play out for many months or years, rather than the limited negotiation time available now." Reds P Trevor Bauer said via Twitter, "There's so many ways to hide the money" (AP, 5/15). 

IN GOOD FAITH? USA TODAY's Bob Nightengale notes the league "maintained Thursday it is not reneging on its original agreement, and is only exercising its rights to negotiate a new economic deal with the union if a season is played without fans." An MLB attorney involved in the negotiations said, "The whole agreement is premised on that the season was only going to resume in front of fans. The way it was structured, the season was not starting unless we can play with fans at either home ballparks or neutral sites. That was understood. We knew going in that it was not economically feasible to play without fans with the way the deal was structured" (USA TODAY, 5/15).

DIGNITARIES OPTIMISTIC ABOUT DEAL: Yankees Senior VP & GM Brian Cashman on Thursday said he is "optimistic" there will be a season in some form. Cashman: "We have to give everybody involved in that process the time to discuss it and work through it. Try to find comfort levels if they exist. ... The first steps are trying to educate each other with what is the ability to keep our employees safe, all parties that are involved" (NEWSDAY, 5/15). Rays manager Kevin Cash said, "When MLB and the owners come together with the players to come to an agreement on different situations and circumstances, sometimes that can take some time. They want to do what’s right and fair for all parties." He added, "Certainly with the public knowledge of the proposal that is currently being sent over to the association, I think that’s stirred a lot of thought and conversation. ... The players I've spoken with, they consistently show kind of a champing at the bit mentality of ready to go" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 5/15).

Rob Manfred told CNN on Thursday that players would be tested multiple times per week
Photo: CNN
Rob Manfred told CNN on Thursday that players would be tested multiple times per week
Photo: CNN
Rob Manfred told CNN on Thursday that players would be tested multiple times per week
Photo: CNN

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said the league has developed "extensive protocols" for returning to play, in which testing for coronavirus is "key." Manfred, appearing on CNN, said upon return, all players "would be tested multiple times a week," and testing "would be supplemented less frequently by antibody testing as well." If a player tests positive, teams will not go into a "14-day quarantine." The positive individual would be "removed from the rest of the group," and there will be a "quarantine arrangement in each facility and in each city." Manfred was pressed about what would happen if a larger outbreak occurred, and he conceded, "Nothing is risk-free in this undertaking." MLB will attempt to "mitigate that risk with repeated point-of-care testings" (“CNN Global Town Hall,” CNN, 5/15).

BY THE BOOK: In next week's SPORTS BUSINESS JOURNAL, Eric Prisbell reports by the end of this week, MLB plans to "present to the union and all 30 clubs more than 80 pages of medical protocols that are expected to detail the league's plans for routine rapid-result COVID-19 testing of players and essential game-day employees." Those tests could be "administered daily if circumstances warrant." Testing would be "conducted by a centralized Utah-based lab used frequently by MLB, in part to avoid detracting from medical services that may be needed for the general public." For frequent testing of asymptomatic individuals, samples will be "sent to the Sports Medicine Research & Testing Laboratory in Utah, which is MLB's minor league drug testing laboratory that has now been converted to a COVID-19 testing lab." The Utah lab will "do the testing because the infrastructure of collectors and how to ship samples is already in place." The turnaround time "will be 24 hours." MLB also "envisions making testing available to the families of players and staffs." It also "expects to be able to provide excess inventory of tests to health care providers for the general public" (SPORTS BUSINESS JOURNAL, 5/18 issue).

STAYING SAFE: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Diamond & Radnofsky report MLB believes it can "gain access to the tens of thousands of kits required for this without taking tests away from frontline workers or clogging up hospitals and wouldn't proceed if that weren't the case." MLB understands that the "only way to guarantee complete safety for its employees is not to play at all in 2020." League officials "acknowledge that until a vaccine arrives, virtually any idea they come up with will likely still mean that somebody within their ranks is infected at some point." MLB is "confident that its plan strikes the right balance" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 5/15). SI.com's Tom Verducci noted the SMRTL works with several pro leagues and WADA to "perform PED testing and research." But with sports shut down, SMRTL has "turned its testing expertise toward COVID-19." Last month, with the assistance of MLB and in cooperation with Stanford and USC, it "launched the first nationwide testing program of COVID-19 antibodies in blood samples" (SI.com, 5/14).

Arenado said he is not personally concerned about his health in a return to the diamond
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Arenado said he is not personally concerned about his health in a return to the diamond
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Arenado said he is not personally concerned about his health in a return to the diamond
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Rockies 3B Nolan Arenado "wants fans to understand the players' perspective" in regard to the compensation dispute with owners in a potential season restart, even though that "often can be difficult, considering how much money players make," according to Ken Rosenthal of THE ATHLETIC. Arenado is aware of the comments made Wednesday night by Rays P Blake Snell in response to a fan asking about the possibility of players accepting further pay reduction. Arenado said Snell "made a lot of good points." Arenado: "But he also made some points where it's just going to be too hard to get everyone on our side." Asked if he agreed with Snell that the risk for players is very high, Arenado said, "It's a risk, yeah, but I don't think MLB would approve of this if the government or whoever is in charge of making sure we're good to go didn't approve of it." Arenado said personally he is "not at all" concerned about playing. Arenado: "I would be worried if they had no plan. I feel like there's a plan" (THEATHLETIC.com, 5/14). In N.Y., Ted Holmlund notes Snell also "received some support" from Phillies RF Bryce Harper. Harper during a live Twitch stream on Thursday said of Snell, "Somebody's gotta say it, at least he manned up and said it. Good for him" (N.Y. POST, 5/15).

NOT THE RIGHT MOVE? In Tampa, John Romano writes there are "legitimate arguments to be made" that MLB should cancel the '20 season, as Snell "seemed to suggest." One "could say it's not worth the risk or effort to direct so many resources toward baseball when so many are struggling with daily life." One "could also make an argument that baseball owners are taking advantage of the pandemic to institute the type of pay restrictions they have long favored and the players' union has forcefully resisted." Unfortunately, Snell "did not make any of those arguments" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 5/15). In N.Y., Ken Davidoff writes under the header, "Blake Snell Needed To Keep Virtuous MLB Rant To Himself." Snell "never should've said that publicly" and no one "should ever fault him for feeling this way." Both sides "own compelling arguments on their behalf." But to "air those arguments for mass consumption ... aids no one." Davidoff: "To the contrary, it hurts everyone" (N.Y. POST, 5/15).

HEALTH THE BIGGEST ISSUE: THE ATHLETIC's Marc Carig wrote if one distills Snell's message to its essence, what "remains is an explanation for why baseball remains a longshot this season." The issue here is "less about money and more about health." Carig: "To be clear, money is part of the equation." The money "gets worked out," but what is "far trickier ... is establishing an acceptable level of health risk." And that is "where any plans for baseball on American soil in 2020 look shaky" (THEATHLETIC.com, 5/14).

Some within NASCAR are comparing Sunday's race to the '79 Daytona 500 in terms of significance
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Some within NASCAR are comparing Sunday's race to the '79 Daytona 500 in terms of significance
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Some within NASCAR are comparing Sunday's race to the '79 Daytona 500 in terms of significance
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

NASCAR will return to action this weekend at the First Heroes 400 at Darlington Raceway, and many see this as "quite possibly a seminal moment for stock-car racing," according to Godwin Kelly of the Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL. Some within the sport are putting the race "in the same category as the 1979 Daytona 500 (the first race broadcast live on network television) and the addition of the Brickyard 400 to the Cup Series in 1994." Driver Kurt Busch said, "I feel like this is a genuine opportunity for many different reasons." Driver Erik Jones: "We have a huge opportunity on Sunday to bring in a new group of fans that maybe never watch NASCAR." Kelly notes the mission is to "put on a good show for the TV audience and not potentially spread any present COVID-19 at the track" (Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL, 5/15). In L.A., David Wharton noted NASCAR will "get the jump on other major sports in returning to network television," and it "has a chance to grab the national spotlight." Driver Alex Bowman: "I really think we can put on great shows and do that safely. And I think that will be really good for everybody” (L.A. TIMES, 5/14).

WHITE HOT SPOTLIGHT: ESPN.com's Ryan McGee noted it would be "naive to believe that the surprising success of eNASCAR broadcasts (roughly 1 million viewers per week) hasn't fed into NASCAR's desire to get back to the live track as soon as possible." NASCAR President Steve Phelps has "never disputed that." However, much of the motivation "has been to be the only live sport on television on Sunday afternoons for the foreseeable future." There will be many observers "watching on Sunday to see if the road back to normal does indeed run through Darlington." Track President Kerry Tharp said, "I've heard from a lot of people who work in a lot of different sports. They all want to see if all of this we are doing to make this race happen works. They are all hoping that it does" (ESPN.com, 5/13).

LEADING BY EXAMPLE: In Charlotte, Tom Sorensen writes NASCAR "did the best work of any sport during the COVID-19 shutdown." Fox televised "seven NASCAR iRacing events and attracted large audiences," and Sunday's race is an "opportunity to begin to win fans back." The safety of athletes and crews and all the people who participate in such a massive undertaking is "essential." Sorensen writes, "I trust NASCAR will get this right. I hope so" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 5/15).

Treliving said nothing has been set in stone on the NHL's return from the Return to Play Committee
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Treliving said nothing has been set in stone on the NHL's return from the Return to Play Committee
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Treliving said nothing has been set in stone on the NHL's return from the Return to Play Committee
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Flames GM Brad Treliving "expects news next week from the NHL regarding a restart scenario," but the ability for players to cross the U.S.-Canada border is a "big source of concern," according to Kristen Anderson of the CALGARY HERALD. Treliving said, "We monitor that daily and that’s something that the league takes into consideration. ... If you want to start on this date, you've gotta cover off so many things before you can get to that date. Right now, No. 1 is the ability to get into the country and access the borders. No. 2 is a quarantine period if you do get through. The league is trying to factor that in when they build their timelines. There is also discussion going on with both federal governments of a plan in place." He noted that "nothing has been set in stone" about the league's return from the Return to Play Committee, which is made up of Commissioner Gary Bettman, Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly, NHLPA Exec Dir Don Fehr and other league execs and players. Anderson noted with cities in both countries "easing restrictions, there have been more realistic ideas of how players would soon be able to return to training facilities" to practice in small groups while adhering to local measures." Treliving: "My feeling is there is gaining momentum on a plan" (CALGARY HERALD, 5/15).

MEETINGS, BUT NO SOLUTIONS: TSN's Pierre LeBrun reported the Return to Play Committee met twice this week, though that is "not to say we're anywhere close to a big announcement." It is "very difficult for both sides to come together on a solution that makes sense." The idea of a 24-team postseason is "not for everyone," with teams falling on different sides depending on where they sit in the standings. TSN's Darren Dreger noted players outside of those on the committee are speaking up about finances, as some "want the economics determined now." Dreger said, "Some players want certainty that the escrow percentage that's attached to next year moving forward in the repair work financially is a workable percentage before puck drop and resumption of the 2019-2020 season." However, there is "no indication" that the two issues will be tied together. Despite that, there is an "appreciation by all that coming back is crucially important to that repair job both this season and the health of the sport moving forward" ("Insider Trading," TSN, 5/14).

SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT: In Toronto, Kevin McGran reports Maple Leafs RW Mitch Marner is "more worried about the health of his fellow players than he is about playing through the COVID-19 pandemic." Marner was "caught on video during group play of a video game online," saying, "I'm all down for starting everything up, let's rock. But what if someone gets sick and dies? What happens? It's awful to think about" (TORONTO STAR, 5/15). THE HOCKEY NEWS' Ken Campbell wrote Marner's comments bring up the point that players are "going to have to trust that the NHL and the NHL Players' Association ... are looking out for their best interests." Campbell: "Has the league historically done that when it comes to head trauma? A good number of former players would argue it has not. That's why the players are going to have to think long and hard before returning to play" (THEHOCKEYNEWS.com, 5/14).

MLS late Thursday night extended its small group and team training moratorium through June 1. Players on May 6 were first able to participate in voluntary individual workouts on teams' training grounds in states where it is permissible based on local health and safety guidelines. That remains intact. Training facilities will also remain closed unless a player has a need for treatment or rehabilitation (Mark J. Burns, THE DAILY).

QUESTIONS REMAIN ON ORLANDO: In L.A., Kevin Baxter reports the broad contours of the MLS proposal that brings teams to Orlando "has more questions than answers ... beginning with the expected start date of June 1, a target now considered overly ambitious." There also are "disagreements as to how many people will be permitted inside the strictly guarded quarantine bubble, how many times a week they would be tested, where those tests would come from and what would happen if someone tested positive." One anonymous Western Conference GM said, "Too many loose ends. Not an easy task to secure safety for 1,000-plus people in one complex." Until those loose ends are tied up, the MLSPA is "unlikely to agree to a plan that currently has split the union membership, with some favoring a quick return to play while others question the danger or are opposed to being separated from family for an extended period" (L.A. TIMES, 5/15).

BEST-CASE SCENARIO: Minnesota United coach Adrian Heath on Thursday said, "The general consensus is we need to get back to some normalcy. If that means going to Orlando and playing football for a month, that might be it. ... It's not ideal. We're aware of that. There's no perfect solution for this, but we're trying to come up with a situation that's good for everybody." Minnesota United MF and MLSPA Exec Board member Ethan Finlay said, "Players want to play." Finlay on the players' priorities said, "First and foremost, the health and safety of themselves and their families and making sure the competition is worthwhile. We're going to be putting our bodies on the line and it's important it makes sense." He added, "Most guys -- if the scenario is right and they feel its safe and its worthwhile and its competitive -- are going to want to get back on the field" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 5/15).

TOUGH CALL: In St. Paul, Andy Greder notes MLS and the players union have been discussing salary cuts for players, and Finlay said that the union is "trying not to combine a restart with compensation issues." Finlay said, "We are viewing them separately, but it does make it difficult on players to try to make a decision on the economics of the game when we really don't know exactly what is going to happen from a playing standpoint. We are trying to cover all bases, but players want to play and we have every intention in participating if everything works out" (ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS, 5/15).

The Stars "will undergo another round of furloughs, including most of the remaining front office," but excluding employees that are "vice presidents or higher," according to Matthew DeFranks of the DALLAS MORNING NEWS. The furloughs are slated to run through July 3. The Stars' hockey operations department "was not affected by the furloughs, but management, coaches and scouts and took 20% pay cuts." The remaining execs who "initially took a 20% pay cut in late March received an additional salary reduction," but Stars President Brad Alberts "did not disclose how much." Alberts also "did not disclose the exact number of employees furloughed." Alberts on April 30 announced that the team "would furlough 20% of its workforce for 60 days." The second round of furloughs "will end at the same time as the first." Alberts said the intent was to bring "most of them back immediately once we know and have clarity" on the NHL season. DeFranks notes this measure is the "latest cost-cutting tactic" used by Stars Owner Tom Gaglardi across his portfolio of businesses. Northland Properties, owned by the Gaglardi family, "operates a number of hotels and restaurant chains that have been impacted heavily by the pandemic." The economic turmoil surrounding Gaglardi "raises the question: Is the return to the NHL enough to secure the return of Stars employees, or is that dependent on the health of the hotel and restaurant industries?" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 5/15).

HARD TIMES CONTINUE: In Cincinnati, John Fay notes the Reds "announced furloughs for the staff beginning June 1." The team in a statement said these changes "involve under 25% of our employees being placed on temporary furloughs." Meanwhile, the Marlins "reportedly will furlough 100 staff members of the baseball operations staff beginning June 1" (CINCINNATI ENQUIRER, 5/15).

The ATP and WTA announced this morning that the two tours will extend their current suspensions of play through the end of July, impacting 10 more tournaments and bringing the total number of top-level pro tennis tournaments altered by the COVID-19 pandemic to 46. Tennis has stood still since March 11 when the BNP Paribas Open was canceled the night before the tournament was to begin. The ATP and WTA both suspended play in April, a competition pause that ran thru July 12 until this most recent extension. Two American ATP tournaments, the Hall of Fame Open (starting July 13) and Truist Atlanta Open (starting July 27), were caught up in the ATP’s half of the suspension extension, along with events in Sweden, Mexico, Croatia and Austria. Events in Hamburg and Switzerland that also fall under the new suspension had already been imperiled by bans on large gatherings thru Aug. 31 in their respective countries. Four WTA events were additionally impacted, including tournaments in Sweden, Switzerland, Romania and Latvia.

LOOKING TO '21: Truist Atlanta Open Tournament Dir Eddie Gonzalez confirmed that the Atlanta tournament will not take place in '20. He said competing against college and pro football in the fall, as well as an already crowded schedule for the tournament’s host site, Atlanta Station, made the decision to cancel, instead of postpone, a clear one. Gonzalez said the tournament will undoubtedly take a financial hit, but that the event’s parent company, GF Sports, “will weather this, we’ll be fine.” Gonzalez: “We’re committed to making our 2021 event even more of a financial and experiential success.” The Hall of Fame Open, in Newport, R.I., is also canceled for '20. The HOF inductions of Conchita Martinez and Goran Ivanisevic will be celebrated in '21. “As a non-profit organization, the Hall of Fame Open and Enshrinement Weekend are primary funding elements for the International Tennis Hall of Fame,” HOF CEO Todd Martin said. “These events bring thousands of people to Newport and our campus to experience the National Historic Landmark and tour the museum. The events are critical revenue streams that fuel the delivery of the Hall of Fame’s mission to preserve and celebrate tennis history and inspire the sport’s future.”

Conor McGregor in March announced that he was purchasing US$1.08M "worth of personal protective equipment to donate to hospitals in Leinster province in Ireland that were fighting the COVID-19 pandemic." Dublin-based Generation Health Medical Clinics Founder & Medical Dir Dr. Nina Byrnes on Thursday said that McGregor himself "showed up and surprised her and her team with a box full of medical gowns." The equipment drop was "one of more than 170 that McGregor and his team with the charity Heroes Aid did across Ireland, and more are reportedly coming" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 5/14).

TEAM EFFORTS: The Brewers on Thursday continued their outreach at Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center in Milwaukee. Team President David Sterns was "on hand along with Milwaukee Professional Fire Fighters Local 215 as 1,000 meals from Wahlburgers were distributed in a show of support to front-line workers" (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 5/15)....Ravens President Dick Cass said that the Stephen and Renee Bisciotti Foundation "will make a 'significant contribution to local relief efforts in the coming days." Cass also said that the Ravens are "developing an employee assistance fund in case Ravens games are canceled or attendance is restricted in Baltimore next season" (BALTIMORE SUN, 5/15)....76ers F Mike Scott and Red Bull on Wednesday "provided 600 meals to the overnight staff at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 5/15).

ANOTHER INITIATIVE: Rogers Sports & Media earlier this week celebrated International Nurses Day by helping surpass $1M raised in support of the country's frontline healthcare community through the Hearts and Smiles campaign (Hearts and Smiles).