Teams roll out plans, hope for best-case scenario
Team executives are restarting their business in the second half of 2020 with a blend of uncertainty and hope after facing unprecedented challenges during the shutdown.
“It’s tough to project what it’s going to be like even in a period of a couple weeks,” said Chris Klein, president of the LA Galaxy. “We’re trying as best as we can to plan, understanding that those plans are going to have to change. Business, at least for the foreseeable future, will not go back to the same. The first step obviously as a country, and globally, is to get on the other side of the pandemic and so we can get back to some sort of normalcy, but we just don’t know when or how that’s going to look.”
Despite the differences in their respective sports, teams share one common thread in how to run their businesses in front of empty stadiums, at least in the near future.
“We are in the business of gathering crowds and we are in the midst of a pandemic that calls for the prevention of gathering crowds,” said Derrick Hall, CEO of the Arizona Diamondbacks. “Our biggest concern should be creating ideal plans for the comfort and health of our employees and fans when a return is possible, as we are attempting to do with our players and coaches. We need consumer confidence to now include a restored confidence in attending a game in person, as free of risk as possible.”
Building fan confidence to return to stadiums and arenas is one of the major challenges across the industry.
“What concerns me the most is the unknown that exists around the pandemic,” said Cleveland Cavaliers President Nic Barlage. “It is how do you get to a place where you are doing everything you can to provide optionality for fans to attend events. If you don’t feel safe, then obviously we want you to stay home, but at the same time we want to be responsible and bring some things back.”
Teams must also balance recovery efforts for the remainder of this year while planning ahead for 2021, whatever it may look like.
“It’s how to engage fans who can’t be present at our games with exciting marketing content, both virtually and in the community,” said Valerie Camillo, president of business operations for the Philadelphia Flyers. “The restart also enables us to deliver enhanced value as we fulfill our sponsor commitments, and to build a robust pipeline of ticketing customers and prospects for the ’20-21 season.”
For the Galaxy and the other MLS teams that have restarted their season in Orlando, next year is now as they look to recapture lost revenue.
“Once we’re on the other side of Orlando, we’re looking at what the 2020 season looks like,” Klein said. “At the same time, we are trying to build 2021 so that we can correspond with our members and our fans. The short-term planning is what our opportunities are in 2021 and to try and retain revenue and drive value for our fans and our partners. Then, to plan a little bit longer-term for 2021 and beyond.”
The NFL is gearing up to play its full 2020 season under a cloud of uncertainty as teams plan scenarios to play in front of a limited number of fans.
“Best-case scenario is playing and finishing the 2020 season in front of some percentage of fans and winning the Super Bowl,” said one president, speaking anonymously because the league has ordered teams to not comment publicly on preparations for the season. “I don’t know what is best or likely for sports because it will depend on the sport and the state in which you reside. We need to understand that we are not in a one-size-fits-all scenario.”
It’s not only pandemic recovery efforts that will dominate the rest of 2020. Team executives are now focusing on race and social justice efforts in their communities.
“The social issue is going to be a huge focus in the NBA,” Barlage said. “No. 2 is the health and safety of our society. It is just making sure we are doing the right things in regard to the pandemic and the social movement. There is not enough time in the day but we are working to make an impact.”
Staff writers Mark J. Burns, Ben Fischer and Eric Prisbell contributed to this report.