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Volume 26 No. 226

Coronavirus and Sports

In-venue medical personnel was one of the issues addressed in union's wide ranging response
Photo: getty images
In-venue medical personnel was one of the issues addressed in union's wide ranging response
Photo: getty images
In-venue medical personnel was one of the issues addressed in union's wide ranging response
Photo: getty images

The MLBPA made its response to the league's new safety protocols on Thursday, and the players' focus was increasingly on the frequency of testing. Some believe that rapid-response testing, with samples sent to MLB's centralized lab in Utah, should be administered more than multiple times per week and likely daily. A source said that the MLBPA's response was "wide ranging" and also included notes on the following issues: protocols for positive tests; in-stadium medical personnel; protections for high-risk players and family; access to pre- and postgame therapies and sanitization protocols. With MLB expected to make a formal player compensation proposal to the union in the coming days, do not be surprised to see the variable of timing of payments begin to emerge in conversations between the two sides (Eric Prisbell, SBJ Unpacks).

FIRST THINGS FIRST: In N.Y., Joel Sherman writes the health and safety protocols are "more vital to tackle first and completely" than compensation issues "because as the saying goes, you have nothing without your health." This is "not about minimizing the import of the financial element; it is about prioritizing health/safety." If the sides "can reach agreement on health/safety, it will exert mutual (and staggering) pressure on both sides to find common ground on the much more contentious issue of pay." Reaching an agreement on health/safety "should provide momentum and motivation to solve the financial chasm" (N.Y. POST, 5/22).

NEED TO COME TOGETHER: On Long Island, David Lennon writes dialogue is "always a good thing in these situations," but "lobbing PR grenades at each other is not." Despite the "previous acrimony, there's really no leverage to be gained anymore by fighting over the language of the March 26 pact" (NEWSDAY, 5/22). In Newark, Bob Klapisch writes if talks between the two sides "collapse because of money, it'll be the Michael Corleone kiss of death to the game's legitimacy." It took MLB "more than a decade to restore its attendance levels" after the '94 strike, and "even that required help" from the steroid era (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 5/22).

POINT-COUNTERPOINT: In Pittsburgh, Dejan Kovacevic writes under the header, "If Baseball Bails, Blame The Players." There is "no agreement" between MLB and the MLBPA, and there "never was one." Kovacevic: "Not a completed one, anyway." If this union, representing these players, "can't recognize right now that they'd be blamed for shutting down baseball ... then they're obtuse beyond hope" (DKPITTSBURGHSPORTS.com, 5/22). But the Chicago Sun-Times’ Jason Lieser said he does not blame any of the players “if they don't feel like this is worth the risk” to play. The MLBPA is the “last union that’s ever going to take a pay cut” (“SportsTalk Live,” NBC Sports Chicago, 5/21).

Some GMs believe the Blackhawks and Rangers are a big part of this proposal for obvious TV reasons
Photo: getty images
Some GMs believe the Blackhawks and Rangers are a big part of this proposal for obvious TV reasons
Photo: getty images
Some GMs believe the Blackhawks and Rangers are a big part of this proposal for obvious TV reasons
Photo: getty images

NHL GMs are "still somewhat in the dark in terms of what’s coming down the pipe" regarding the league's proposal for a 24-team, conference-based playoff format which would likely use only two hub cities, and many on the idea feel "pretty lukewarm about it, at best," according to Bob McKenzie of TSN.ca. The most prominent complaint is that the 24-team playoff format "distances itself too much from the NHL regular season." There also are some GMs who "feel that this is really a made-for-TV event, which it is, because there’s no fans in the stands, but they’re chuckling a little bit" that the Blackhawks and Rangers are a "big part of this for obvious TV reasons." TSN's Darren Dreger noted there is "no rush in terms of making a decision or confirming hub cities." It is "believed that the NHL is leaning towards two hub cities." There are "still a good amount of cities in the mix" (TSN.ca, 5/21). 

MUCH TO BE DONE: The AP's Whyno & Wawrow note even if the NHLPA exec board "votes to approve the format, it doesn’t yet seal the deal for the NHL season resuming." The league and players union "still need to negotiate other details, including health and safety protocols." But the format is a "substantial piece of the return to play puzzle." The "who of returning would be set." The "where, when and how must still be determined" (AP, 5/22).

BREAKING IT DOWN: In Toronto, Michael Traikos takes a look at the "good, bad and ugly" of the NHL's 24-team proposal. The good includes "more postseason games" as structuring a postseason around the top 24 teams would "give fans more hockey than usual." Traikos: "There won’t be a meaningless game until the start of next season." The bad includes "more opportunity to get hurt" as playoffs are a "time when the physicality is ramped up." Traikos: "The league might want to bring along an MRI machine to whatever hotel they’re staying at." The ugly is the perception that the "Covid Cup" in "whatever format the NHL decides ... will tarnish the Stanley Cup" (TORONTO SUN, 5/22). 

PIECE OF THE PIE: NHL Network's Mike Johnson noted the 24-team format would include big markets like N.Y. and Chicago, but he thinks the league is just "trying to acknowledge the fact that the entire regular season wasn’t finished.” There is "a lot to like here, a lot of details to work out but as a foundational point it’s a good starting spot” (“NHL Tonight,” NHL Network, 5/21).

FC Cincinnati already received orders for more than half of the club seats in its new West End Stadium
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
FC Cincinnati already received orders for more than half of the club seats in its new West End Stadium
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
FC Cincinnati already received orders for more than half of the club seats in its new West End Stadium
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

FC Cincinnati Controlling Owner Carl Lindner "wants to get back to playing games as soon as it's safe," even though he knows his MLS club "will take a financial hit without fans" in the stadium, according to Steve Watkins of the CINCINNATI BUSINESS COURIER. FC Cincinnati COO Dennis Carroll recently said that the club "gets about 90% of its revenue from playing games at home in front of fans." But Watkins wrote club ownership is "willing to bite the bullet." Watkins noted the group's investment commitments "include not only enough to ride out the season but also to wrap up construction" of the $250M, team-financed West End Stadium. Lindner brought in former eBay and HP CEO Meg Whitman as part of a group of investors in November, and together the group "invested a reported" $100M. Meanwhile, the ownership group has "kept all of FC Cincinnati's employees on staff and didn't apply for a Payroll Protection Program loan." Lindner: "We're trying hard not to do furloughs. We want to see how things play out when things start back up. It's kind of tied to our values. That's part of the same reason we didn't go for a PPP loan." Lindner also said that he is "encouraged with the fan response to club seat sales that began last week." Watkins reported within three days, FC Cincinnati "received orders for more than half of the club seats in its new West End Stadium." The club "took in more than 1,500 deposits" in those three days (BIZJOURNALS.com, 5/21).

Coburn said that the school's alumni base has been active and donations continue to come in
Photo: getty images
Coburn said that the school's alumni base has been active and donations continue to come in
Photo: getty images
Coburn said that the school's alumni base has been active and donations continue to come in
Photo: getty images

FSU's FY '20 "comes to an end in August," and AD David Coburn is optimistic that they will "finish the year close to their original projections," according to Josh Newberg of 247SPORTS.com. Coburn said, "We’re still not quite there, but I think we’re going to end up okay in the current fiscal year with the savings that we’ve managed." Newberg noted FSU "was not dealt a devastating financial blow during the shutdown," but some of Coburn's concerns will "roll over to next year." Coburn: "The issue is what happens in the fall and how it impacts us, we just don’t know yet. Next year, and I’m not in position to talk in detail, but we’re working on a normal budget and also a scenario planning with reductions at every degree you can think of." He added that the school's alumni base has been "active and donations continue to come in." Coburn: "Thus far we’ve lagged a little, but ticket sales and contribution pledges have been good" (247SPORTS.com, 5/21).

ATHLETES EXPECTED BACK IN JUNE: In Orlando, Iliana Limon Romero reports FSU officials "have not set a date for when football and basketball athletes will be able to participate in voluntary workouts on campus," but the school expects to "welcome them back in June." Nearly 40 football players and 20 football staff members have been "tested for coronavirus at the student health center" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 5/22).

Warriors physician Dr. Robert Nied has "provided the franchise's more than 500 full-time employees much of the information they need to navigate an uncertain time," as he "fields numerous questions about mental health," according to Connor Letourneau of the S.F. CHRONICLE. Warriors VP/Human Resources Erin Dangerfield said, "We've learned a lot during this time period about how we can be successful virtually, and a big part of that is reminding everyone that we're in this together." Three times a week, the Warriors hold a "'wellness-in-place challenge' that awards staffers points and prizes for posting pictures to a Slack channel of such simple activities as walks, jogs, bike rides and TikTok dances." A couple of weeks ago, the Warriors "began setting up staffers with virtual volunteer opportunities," and such efforts have "helped employees manage the stress that the pandemic has heightened." During this time, Nied has "offered up tips on how to handle feelings of isolation." Warriors President & COO Rick Welts said, "Mental health has become a regular part of the discussion instead of the one part that I feel like people were afraid to talk about" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 5/22).

SNY canceled "two late-afternoon studio programs, 'The Thread' and 'LoudMouths,' on Thursday, moves that resulted in the layoffs of about 20 people who worked on the shows," according to Neil Best of NEWSDAY. The cancellations "leave only two studio shows being produced by SNY -- at least until the Mets and/or Jets return to action." They are "SportsNite" -- currently on hiatus -- and "Baseball Night in New York" (NEWSDAY, 5/22). In N.Y., Andrew Marchand reports host of "The Thread" Justine Ward has "resigned, but it is not in protest of the moves, but rather a career change." SNY is "de-emphasizing freelancers, but will still continue with 'Baseball Night in New York' now and, when things are up and running, 'SportsNite.'" This "could offer some opportunities, but SNY isn’t clear yet if it will use freelancers" (N.Y. POST, 5/22). 

While major leagues like the NBA, MLB and NHL have taken the spotlight for being on hiatus, youth sports leagues also are facing their longest dark period in years. On the latest episode of "SBJ Unpacks -- Weathering COVID-19," our Bill King is joined by Tom Farrey, Exec Dir of the Sports & Society Program at The Aspen Institute, to examine what a safe return to sports will look like for kids and whether now is the right time.

On whether there is a consensus among healthcare officials on what the path should look like for youth sports to return
Farrey: Youth sports is a highly disjointed space. We don’t have Youth Ministry of Sport or some entity to coordinate things from the top down. What we do have is the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee which issued what I think are really strong ‘return to play’ guidelines for athletes and returning to events. It’s super solid … but what you have are a lot of organizations who are not paying attention to them and sort of drawing up their own ideas on how to bring back play.

On how aware youth organizations are of the guidelines being issued by the CDC, the USOPC and other healthcare entities
Farrey: This is the challenge. This whole situation has laid bare the structural flaws and deficits of our sports system in this country, particularly at its base. … There’s a way to structure practices and there’s a way to give parents the confidence to put their kids back into these settings. It’s just going to take a level of commitment and understanding that we are in a new era.

On whether youth sports could come out better off from the pandemic
Farrey: We are now in a crisis and we’ve got real challenges in front of us, but I’m talking to a lot of leaders from the leagues, from NGBs, from top corporations engaged in this space. They all are excited to put in place a new model coming out of this and they’re thinking very hard and there is a lot of momentum around rebuilding community-based sports.

Magic Johnson's insurance company is funding $100M in loans for "minority- and women-owned businesses" after Johnson heard those businesses were "struggling to receive the necessary assistance during the coronavirus pandemic." EquiTrust Life Insurance Co., which Johnson owns, will "distribute the loans through the Small Business Administration's federal Paycheck Protection Program in partnership with MBE Capital Partners." Johnson's funding reportedly will "go toward some 5,000 loans that have already been approved" (L.A. TIMES, 5/21).

NBA CARES: The Bucks and Fiserv Forum are donating $150,000 worth of food that will be made into meals for the Milwaukee community (Bucks)....Bucks G Pat Connaughton today is "hosting an 11-hour radiothon" from 7:00am-6:00pm CT on ESPN 94.5 Milwaukee and ESPN 100.5 Madison. The event will "include interviews, sales, a silent auction and more in an effort to raise funds for COVID-19 relief" (MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL, 5/21)....Jazz G Mike Conley donated $200,000 to benefit various communities that helped shape him. His gift will be distributed among Utah Food Bank in Salt Lake City; CodeCrew in Memphis; Community Shelter Board and Columbus Urban League in Columbus, Ohio; Indianapolis Public Schools Foundation; and New Haven Missionary Baptist Church in West Helena, Ark. (Jazz)....NBA Kings F Harrison Barnes will "donate nearly $200,000 to his high school Alma mater," Ames High School in Ames, Iowa (Raleigh NEWS & OBSERVER, 5/22).

HELPING HAND: Penguins co-Owners Ron Burkle and Mario Lemieux have "donated $100,000 each to Highmark Health and UPMC for specific programs related to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic" (TRIBLIVE.com, 5/21)....Three Wild players "will donate $15,000 to charity" after placing in this week's NHLPA Fortnite tournament. RW J.T. Brown, C Victor Rask and G Mat Robson "placed fourth and will donate their winnings to Second Harvest Heartland" (ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS, 5/21)....The Orioles "will host a blood drive at Camden Yards on Saturday, with donors receiving two ticket vouchers redeemable for a game at Oriole Park" in '20 or '21 (BALTIMORE SUN, 5/20)....Tigers 1B Miguel Cabrera and his wife, Rosangel, are "donating $250,000 in response to the coronavirus pandemic to help Detroit organizations that provide for children" (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 5/22).