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Volume 27 No. 5

Coronavirus and Sports

The players' proposal gives clubs relief in case the playoffs are canceled due to coronavirus or otherwise
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
The players' proposal gives clubs relief in case the playoffs are canceled due to coronavirus or otherwise
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
The players' proposal gives clubs relief in case the playoffs are canceled due to coronavirus or otherwise
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

The MLBPA in a video conference yesterday delivered a proposal to MLB for a 114-game season to be played June 30-Oct. 31, according to a source. The union's proposal adopts the compensation agreement the two sides made in March for players to get full prorated portions of their salaries based on games played. MLB had more recently proposed an 82-game season with progressively higher salary cuts for players with higher salaries. The players' proposal gives clubs relief in the case that the playoffs are canceled due to a second wave of the coronavirus or for any other reason. If that happens, players who were scheduled to make $10M or more in a normal year will have a portion deferred, with interest. Players also will be given relief if they decide not to play based on the risk of the pandemic. Players who are themselves or have immediate family members who are high-risk can choose not to play and receive full salary and service time. Players who do not have risk factors can choose not to play and still receive service time, but no salary. The proposal also includes two years of expanded playoffs, which would include additional teams, and could provide additional revenue for owners and extra games for fans (Liz Mullen, THE DAILY).

A PATH FORWARD? In L.A., Bill Shaikin writes the offer is "almost certainly a nonstarter for owners." Still, if the two sides "shift the argument from the language in the March 26 agreement to a dispute over percentage of salary, there could be a path toward a compromise" (L.A. TIMES, 6/1). In Boston, Peter Abraham notes the union proposal putting deferments on the table "could be where the sides find common ground in the coming days." There is "no deadline on the talks, but to open the season in late June or early July, teams would have start workouts by approximately June 10" (BOSTON GLOBE, 6/1). On Long Island, David Lennon writes the proposal "represents some progress," as "at least the dialogue is moving forward." But MLB has been "adamant about seeking further pay reductions, and it’s unclear just how much the owners are willing to bend on that topic" (NEWSDAY, 6/1). ESPN's Buster Olney said despite the gap separating the two sides, it is “absolutely possible” for an agreement to be reached, because the “consequences are almost unthinkable for baseball” if they fail. Olney: “If there’s no baseball in 2020, (MLB) would spin into a long cycle of labor strike. The same questions would still be there next spring" ("Get Up," ESPN, 6/1).

BIG-TIME LETDOWN: In N.Y., Ken Davidoff writes maybe MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, MLBPA Exec Dir Tony Clark and their deputies can "wiggle their way out of this collective-bargaining impasse in the next week." But even if that occurs, the "scars of these past two months will linger" because during this "time of unprecedented pain, sacrifice and divisiveness, MLB has not honored its self-stated role as a social institution" (N.Y. POST, 6/1). In Minneapolis, Jim Souhan wrote if the owners and players "can’t reach an agreement, baseball may be in a unique kind of trouble," as MLB will have "cleared the way for the NHL and NBA to dominate the summer, and for the NFL to play without any competition from baseball’s postseason this fall" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 5/31). ESPN Radio's Mike Golic said, “If you’re talking about starting at the end of June, you better damn well get this deal done in the next week" ("Golic & Wingo," ESPN Radio, 6/1).

A NATION IN NEED: In Newark, Bob Klapisch wrote MLB at present is "at the edge of the cliff, ready to go crashing into the abyss." Klapisch: "Only a few more days before time runs out and the season gets canceled. That’s when baseball gets stripped of its beloved title -- America’s pastime -- and becomes the nation’s joke" (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 5/31). In Boston, Tara Sullivan wrote right now, baseball is "letting the nation down, unable even in this time of crisis to keep its ugliest squabbles private" (BOSTON GLOBE, 5/31).

OVER IT: In Denver, Patrick Saunders wrote the owners are "winning the PR battle right now because MLB tends to speak with one, unified voice." They "seem to provide a clear, straightforward message." Regardless, a lot of fans, "eager to see baseball again, don’t want to deal with the complexities of the financial battle between the MLB Players Association and the owners" (DENVER POST, 5/31). ESPN’s Mark Teixeria said said both sides of this debate "have really good points.” Teixeria: “When both sides feel like they have the moral high ground that’s the issue" ("Get Up," ESPN, 6/1).

Members of the BOG said that there is growing support for a plan to bring 22 teams to Disney's ESPN complex
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Members of the BOG said that there is growing support for a plan to bring 22 teams to Disney's ESPN complex
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Members of the BOG said that there is growing support for a plan to bring 22 teams to Disney's ESPN complex
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

The NBA BOG on Thursday is "expected to overwhelmingly pass" a plan to restart the season, with a "lot of focus on a 22-team model of bringing teams back to Orlando in a play-in situation," according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. The league is "still digging down on details of what that would look like, and they’re going to spend this week finalizing the structure and format of a return to play." The likely scenario would see the teams play at ESPN's Wide World of Sports Complex beginning in July (“Get Up,” ESPN, 6/1). Sources said that this format "likely would include regular-season and play-in games to compete for playoff berths in both the Eastern and Western Conferences" (ESPN.com, 5/29). In Boston, Gary Washburn reported that a "definitive plan could be released for all teams Friday." Sources said that teams will "travel to Orlando and stay in the various hotels around campus and will conduct practices at the site’s athletic facilities." A limited number of "staff and coaches will attend and extensive safety measures will be taken for players and their families" (BOSTON GLOBE, 5/30).

WORKING THE ROOM: Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver will "do what he does best” when finalizing a return to play plan with the BOG. Cuban: “He’ll talk to all the different owners and get their perspective, bounce ideas off them, get their feedback and find out their logic. Then we’ll all get together, discuss it and make the decision. ... That’s one of the great things about Adam. He’s open-minded, he’s willing to listen to just about anything and he knows how to herd cats, which the 30 Board of Governors typically end up being.” Cuban noted the BOG usually gets to a “good conclusion” because “everybody’s in it with the same reason, with the same goals” ("The Jump," ESPN, 5/29).

SILVER LINING: In Philadelphia, Marc Narducci writes one thing that has "become clear in the negotiations is the confidence in commissioner Adam Silver to guide the league through such a difficult process." Silver was the "first commissioner to suspend a season," and throughout the process, he has been "deliberate but firm in his approach." A source said, “There has been a lot of confidence shown in Adam Silver. He takes everybody’s feedback into consideration and has made no rash decisions" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 6/1).

IN THIS TOGETHER: ESPN's Brian Windhorst noted the NBA has done a "very good job of keeping the union alongside them in this." The NBPA is "riding alongside" the owners, and there is not anticipation of "any sort of labor issue." However, the new terms to complete the season "has got to get negotiated, and they've got to do it in a small time" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 5/31).

NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said that the league "plans to test all players every day when games start happening," according to Stephen Whyno of the AP. Daly said, “We will have a rigorous daily testing protocol where players are tested every evening and those results are obtained before they would leave their hotel rooms the next morning, so we’ll know if we have a positive test and whether the player has to self-quarantine himself as a result of that positive test." The league said that each test "costs approximately $125," and Commissioner Gary Bettman "estimated 25,000-35,000 will be needed to get through the playoffs -- a price tag, he concedes, of 'millions of dollars.'" Daly said that one person testing positive for the coronavirus would "not necessarily mean another pause for the NHL." Leaguewide testing done daily "would allow the isolation of an infected player, coach or staff member before the start of an outbreak" (AP, 5/31)

CAPS GM OFFERS CAUTION: Capitals GM Brian MacLellan on the league's restart efforts said, “Answers aren’t always completely there, so it is frustrating that way, so I think we move forward cautiously,” He added, “We would love to play games, but if it doesn’t make sense, it might not even happen" (WASHINGTON POST, 5/30).

JOB ALMOST DONE: In N.Y., Larry Brooks cited sources as saying that the NHLPA’s Return to Play Committee, which has been "essential in working with the league on the 24-team return, will likely be dissolved once the parties nail down the final details of the tournament." Issues such as "bracketing vs. reseeding, and determining whether the first two rounds of the 16-team playoffs will be best-of-five or best-of-seven are the outstanding items on the docket." They are "expected to be resolved this week." (N.Y. POST, 5/31).

The D-backs on Friday "furloughed or eliminated the positions" of more than 25% of their employees in "drastic cost-cutting measures they say were made necessary by the loss of revenue" brought on by the pandemic, according to Nick Piecoro of the ARIZONA REPUBLIC. The club also "cut loose 64 minor leaguers in the past two weeks, moves that portend the reality that there likely will be no minor league season this year." A source said that the D-backs are "bracing for revenue losses in the neighborhood" of $100M this season and are "expecting to take a significant hit next year, as well, even if a full season is played." The source said that remaining staff "will take pay cuts" with the amount of the reduction on a "sliding scale with salary; that is, the higher the salary the larger the cut." The source said that the "average pay cut for the remaining staff" was 15%. The majority of the cuts "came from the business side of the organization, with baseball operations going largely untouched" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 5/30). The AP's David Brandt reported the D-backs "will continue to pay their minor league players through at least the end of June" (AP, 5/29)

RED SOX IMPLEMENT PAY CUTS: In Boston, Alex Speier cited sources as saying that the Red Sox on Friday informed more than 400 employees that they "will not lay off or furlough any full-time staff members through the end of the season, but they will make pay cuts for those earning over $50,000." The group "includes just under 200 employees in baseball operations" as well as "those in the team’s business operations" (BOSTON GLOBE, 5/30). 

Wasserman submitted a blueprint to county supervisors with minimum standards teams had agreed to follow
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Wasserman submitted a blueprint to county supervisors with minimum standards teams had agreed to follow
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Wasserman submitted a blueprint to county supervisors with minimum standards teams had agreed to follow
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

With California "poised to authorize the resumption of major sporting events," the teams and venues within L.A. County "banded together Friday to tell county supervisors precisely how those events could be held safely," according to Bill Shaikin of the L.A. TIMES. If the county is "satisfied with those plans, games without fans could take place as soon as teams are ready to stage them." LA 2028 Chair Casey Wasserman is serving as "leader of the sports and entertainment division of the county’s economic resiliency task force." In seeking to "expedite the process, Wasserman submitted a 26-page blueprint to county supervisors with minimum standards teams had agreed to follow in such areas as monitoring the health of athletes and staff, observing social distancing off the field, and keeping facilities sanitary." By the end of Friday, he said that each team in town "planned to provide a more detailed plan to county public health officials, specific to its respective sport and venue." The nine pro teams that joined Wasserman in signing the letter were the Chargers, Clippers, Dodgers, Galaxy, Kings, Lakers, Rams, WNBA Sparks and LAFC. A total of 13 sports and concert venues also approved Wasserman's "baseline reopening plan" (L.A. TIMES, 5/30).

Olympic sports could be particularly vulnerable; there are only 17 men's gymnastics programs in the U.S.
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Olympic sports could be particularly vulnerable; there are only 17 men's gymnastics programs in the U.S.
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Olympic sports could be particularly vulnerable; there are only 17 men's gymnastics programs in the U.S.
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

A total of 97 sports teams have been "eliminated at four-year schools" through last Friday with the "coronavirus outbreak and its impacts cited as all or part of the reason," according to research by Eric Olson of the AP. Of the 78 teams lost at the D-I, D-II and NAIA levels, 44 were "from three schools that closed at least in part because of financial fallout from the pandemic." No Power Five conference school is "known to have dropped any sports." Most of the 19 D-I teams cut -- 15 men's, four women's -- are "from schools in so-called Group of Five conferences." Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said that he "worries about schools cutting Olympic sports." Bowlsby: "There are only 17 men's gymnastics programs in this country. If those go away, our Olympic efforts in men's gymnastics will be devastated. Similarly, with different numbers, the same is true with women's gymnastics and swimming, wrestling and a whole array of other things like water polo" (AP, 5/30).

BORN & BRED: In Raleigh, Jonathan Alexander noted North Carolina AD Bubba Cunningham last Friday released a plan that "detailed when and how student-athletes and coaching staffs will return to campus." Most people "will return in groups in June and July." Facilities staff "will return" today, while sports medicine staff "will return June 8." The coaching staff for football and men's and women's basketball "will return on June 12." Football student-athletes "will return in four separate groups on June 12, 19, 26 and 29." Men's and women's basketball players "will return" July 6. The athletes would be tested for COVID-19 "at least twice -- once when they arrive on campus, and seven to eight days after" (Raleigh NEWS & OBSERVER, 5/30). Meanwhile, in Indiana, Mike Carmin noted Purdue will begin bringing some athletes and coaches back to campus, "starting June 8 for voluntary workouts" (Lafayette JOURNAL & COURIER, 5/30).

The coronavirus pandemic "could lead to a quicker expansion of sports betting and internet gambling in the U.S. as states deal with huge budget deficits and look for new tax revenue wherever they can find it," according to Wayne Parry of the AP. Chris Krafcik, Managing Dir at research firm Eilers & Krejcik Gaming, said the virus "will accelerate the expansion of sports betting and online casinos in the next 12 to 24 months." With many state budgets "now resembling smoking craters" due to a largely idled economy, even a "small revenue boost is better than none." At present, 18 U.S. states and DC "offer sports betting, and four offer internet gambling, which can include online casino games, slots and poker." Virginia and Tennessee have "approved sports betting but have yet to launch." Krafcik said that Louisiana, Massachusetts and Ohio are "realistic candidates to legalize sports betting this year." Louisiana is "close to approving a November referendum on sports betting, and Ohio's Legislature is moving forward this week with a bill that could authorize sports betting, including mobile betting" (AP, 5/29).

TD Garden Owner Delaware North in the next 10-14 days will "wrap up the first phase of a detailed 'Safer Stadia' study aimed at outlining best practices for reopening the building on Causeway Street, as well as all arenas and ballparks," according to Kevin Paul Dupont of the BOSTON GLOBE. Delaware North CMO Todd Merry said that the "aim of the 'Safer Stadia' initiative" is to "develop strategies that would allow for a maximum of 12,000-14,000 fans in the building." Some initial suggestions derived from the study:

  • Gates will "open earlier."
  • Ticket holders "could be required to reserve an entry time, designating, say, a 15-minute window of when to arrive at a particular gate."
  • Inside TD Garden, signage will "promote the building’s 'Play It Safe' initiative, with an emphasis on sanitizing methods and health precautions."
  • There will be a "mandatory wearing of masks," in addition to "body temperature readings" (BOSTON GLOBE, 5/30).