SBJ Unpacks: Coronavirus -- MLB, Union Look To Thread A Needle
As mass protests consume some of the nation’s biggest cities, we’ve seen the sports world respond with a flood of statements. Leagues, teams, execs, coaches and athletes have declared their support of black Americans who are once again taking to the streets to have their voices heard.
It’s an important step, yet it’s also never been clearer that words are not enough. In the NFL’s own words, "There remains an urgent need for action.” But what will that action be? It’s easy to proclaim commitment, much harder to back it up. I look forward to seeing how our sports leaders help turn the current pain into future progress.
--- Chris Smith
SEASON LENGTH TAKES PRECEDENT IN MLB NEGOTIATIONS
- As the clock continues to tick, the focus of the negotiations between MLB and the union has quickly shifted to the potential length of a regular season. One day after the union presented the league a counter-proposal that entailed playing a 114-game regular season, MLB is eyeing an even shorter season than the 82-game schedule it had initially proposed.
- The news was first reported by ESPN's Jeff Passan, who tweeted that a regular season consisting of as few as 50-plus games is possible. If players are to be paid a prorated salary based on the number of games played, which the union insists was agreed on by both sides in their March 26 agreement, then the length of season is obviously critical to what is economically feasible.
- MLB believes it will lose more money the longer the regular season goes. The other critical issue is when the postseason would end. The union proposed ending an expanded postseason in November. MLB has been steadfast that even with an 82-game regular season and an October postseason that there is legit risk of the virus' second wave shutting down the playoffs.
- One relevant thing to keep in mind from the union's counter-proposal was that the union did introduce one element to negotiations that could ultimately steer both parties on a path toward resolution: Deferrals.
- A way for both sides to thread a needle and reach a compromise may be to negotiate a percentage of salaries with interest to be deferred to both 2021 and 2022, even if the 2020 postseason is played. Those close to the union have told SBJ's Eric Prisbell that deferring salaries with interest was, in general, the likeliest middle-ground compromise, adding that they were disappointed when told that MLB didn't share that sentiment.
SOURCES: NASCAR CONSIDERS ALLOWING FANS THIS MONTH
- NASCAR is evaluating allowing fans back at its races as soon as later this month, possibly at Homestead-Miami and/or Talladega, according to sources cited by SBJ's Adam Stern.
- The sanctioning body has held five Cup Series races plus a handful of lower-level events since returning in mid-May, all of which have been behind closed doors. NASCAR originally announced that all events in June would be held without fans, which made Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 4 weekend the presumed first possible event back with fans.
- However, sources said in recent days that NASCAR is now studying whether to allow a reduced capacity at events later this month where local rules would allow for it. NASCAR will continue with no fans at least through this weekend at Atlanta and a midweek event the following Wednesday at Martinsville. The series then goes to Homestead, Talladega and Pocono to close out the month. Pocono already announced that its event will be without fans due to a requirement by Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf.
COMPLEXITIES AROUND THE RETURN OF COLLEGE SPORTS
- The NCAA has cleared D-I programs to resume workouts and rolled out guidelines for schools to follow as they allow athletes to return to campus. At the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, located in a city in which cases and hospitalizations have been on the rise in recent weeks, that return will begin with voluntary workouts, likely in the middle of the month.
- Bill King discussed the complexities of that resumption -- and the vast and continued impact of the pandemic on college sports -- with Charlotte AD Mike Hill on the latest episode of the SBJ Unpacks podcast.
- “Patience is a virtue more than ever right now because we are all making projections based on other people’s best guesses,” said Hill, who is in his third year at the rapidly growing school, which last season made its first bowl appearance. “That’s not how we like to operate. You prefer to make data-driven decisions based on information that is solid, so you then can develop your strategies and move ahead. ... We’re doing the best we can with the information we have at hand. ... Ultimately you do have to start making some choices. We’re in that process now related to voluntary workouts, return to campus and what the fall might look like with practice and competition.”
USTA COMMITTED TO ORIGINAL U.S. OPEN DATES
- USTA Chief Exec of Professional Tennis Stacey Allaster said that if the NGB's board does decide to go forward with the U.S. Open, she expects it to be "held at its usual site and in its usual spot on the calendar," with the main draw scheduled to start Aug. 31, per Howard Fendrich of the AP. Allaster said, "The idea of an alternative venue, an alternative date ... we’ve got a responsibility to explore it, but it doesn’t have a lot of momentum.” She added an announcement should come from “mid-June to end of June."
- Fendrich reported the USTA "presented its operational plan to a medical advisory group Friday; now that will be discussed with city, state and federal government officials." Allaster said, "We are spending a lot of time and energy on all the models, including no fans on site. The government will help guide us.” Meanwhile, USTA Chief Revenue Officer Lew Sherr said it is “less and less likely” spectators would be at the U.S. Open this year.
TENNIS CHANNEL GOES DEEP INTO THE ARCHIVES
- The Tennis Channel All-Star Fantasy Showdown, a simulated tournament pitting ATP and WTA players from the past 20 years against each other, commences June 8. Tennis Channel will use one actual, historical match -- Pete Sampras vs. Roger Federer or Serena Williams vs. Victoria Azarenka, for example -- from its archive for each player pairing, with the winner of the rebroadcast match advancing in the fictional tournament bracket.
- The men’s event will run from June 8-12, followed by the women June 15-19. Tennis Channel’s on-air talent will walk through the matches as they’re aired, as if the tournament was actually taking place. Nine of the matches that Tennis Channel picked have never been shown in the U.S. before.
- “We’re trying to figure out ways to entertain our audiences in this rather unsettled time,” Tennis Channel Director of Programming John MacDonald told SBJ’s Bret McCormick. He added that the showdown is an "opportunity for us to try things from a programming standpoint" that the channel would not have had before the current situation.
GETTING BACK TO WORK WITH FOX SPORTS’ BARRY LANDIS
- Fox Sports lead NASCAR producer Barry Landis has moved from the production truck to the network’s Charlotte studio during the sport’s return to the track, working alongside the broadcast talent and two other producers. “We're separated, obviously, it is a large control room,” he explained. “We have workstations set up where we can at least see each other, which is nice. Sometimes being able to just read somebody's face is a pleasant thing to be able to do.” The rest of Fox’ workers are either at the track or in the L.A. studio.
- Landis has been focusing on effective communication, a priority since the entire team isn’t together at one location. He said, “You didn't have to be overly-structured (before), as far as taking a look at elements for a show or pulling an announcer aside to talk about something because everybody was around. … The challenge, for sure, is the preparation. You’ve got to structure things a lot more stringently.”
- With fewer staffers at the track, Fox has developed an instant messaging service for each NASCAR team to communicate directly with the network for race updates. Landis: “That has really helped get information that's pertinent to the broadcast, that we would be missing, had we not put that in place. … The race teams have really gravitated towards it and the system has worked out quite well, both from each teams’ competition side as well as their public relations side.”
- Landis has been renting an apartment in the Charlotte area for the past few weeks, but today was headed home to western New Jersey to spend some time with his wife and kids, since NASCAR won’t hold a Wednesday race this week. “I’m extremely excited to get home for a few days, if for nothing else to take my dog for a walk,” he said.
- Want to share what your work-from-home setup is like? Reach out to SBJ's David Rumsey.
OUTSIDE CONTRIBUTORS: TECH, INNOVATION MARK NEW LANDSCAPE
- Tonight's op-ed contribution is from Havas Media Senior VP Jeff Gagne, who writes under the header, "Innovation And Tech Are Rising Up To Transform Sports."
- "What should have marked a banner year for sports transformed into an almost empty season. Early bright spots included iRacing, NASCAR’s answer to esports, featuring actual professional drivers at home in digital racing simulators, and an all too familiar Zoom-style NFL Draft. While a far cry from the pent-up anticipation fans -- and marketers -- had prior to that fateful mid-March day when the sports world stopped, these innovations mark the types of considerations that each sport will need to take to pave a path forward."
- To read Gagne's contribution, click here.
CHECK OUT THIS WEEK'S SBJ
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- In response to MLS' threat of a lockout, players from around the league "declined to show up for training" today, per ESPN's Jeff Carlisle. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Atlanta United players "didn't turn up for the voluntary, in-person workouts," while the Minneapolis Star Tribune "reported the same for Minnesota United." A source said that players from the Crew also "didn't attend practice." FC Cincinnati issued a release stating that players "did not attend voluntary workouts."
- The Canadian Olympic Committee, Canadian Paralympic Committee and nonprofit Own the Podium are committing C$5 million to efforts to restart Canadian high-performance sports, writes SBJ's Chris Smith. The new funding, which will be directed by the OTP-led Return to Sport Task Force, is intended to help provide safe environments for athletes returning to training and competition.
- ESPN's Brian Windhorst writes under the header, "How The Trust Between Adam Silver And Chris Paul Will Shape The NBA's Restart." This is "unfamiliar territory and a stress test to Silver's way of doing business." By the time next season comes, if the "relationships the NBA commissioner has cultivated with all parties come away unscathed, it will be a minor miracle."
- Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez said today that having fans at Dolphins games "remains a possibility this fall," and he has "spoken with the team about having what would equate to as many as 13,000 fans for home games at Hard Rock Stadium." Per the Miami Herald's Barry Jackson and Adam Beasley, that would mean the stadium would be at roughly 20% capacity for the NFL season.
NEWS YOU NEED FROM SPORTS BUSINESS DAILY
- During this crisis impacting the sports business, we want everyone to be up-to-date on the latest news and information. SBD's "Coronavirus & Sports" section is free, outside the paywall, for the foreseeable future. Below are today's headlines:
- MLBPA Proposal Seen As Progress, But Still Tough Sell For Owners
- Sources: NBA BOG To Vote On Disney Return-To-Play Plan Thursday
- NHL Plans To Test Players Daily When Season Resumes
- D-Backs Furlough Or Eliminate More Than 25% Of Employees
- L.A. Sports Teams Outline Return-To-Play Protocols In Signed Letter
- AP Finds 97 Teams Eliminated From 4-Year Schools Amid Pandemic
- States Could Accelerate Sports Betting Expansion Due To Pandemic
- Delaware North Studying "Safer Stadia" To Establish Best Practices
SBJ UNPACKS -- WEATHERING COVID-19
- Check out the most recent editions of our "SBJ Unpacks" podcasts around COVID-19:
- UNC Charlotte AD Mike Hill on the complexities of student-athletes returning to campus and resumption of play.
- John Ourand and Bill King discuss how networks are planning to broadcast games without fans in the stands.
- Bill King and Mark J Burns dive into the NHL's plan to return to the ice.
- Grand Slam Tennis Tours' Kyle Ross on overseeing the launch of a 120-match exhibition series spread across the U.S.
- Bill King is joined by Greg Levy and Peter Carfagna of the University of Miami to discuss force majeure in the time of COVID-19.
NOMINATIONS OPEN FOR SBJ GAME CHANGERS!
Online nominations for Game Changers are now open. We’ll be accepting nominations through midnight June 21. The Game Changers event will be Oct. 27-28, and a special section will run in SBJ in the Oct. 19 issue.
Something related to coronavirus and sports business catch your eye? Tell us about it. Reach out to Austin Karp (firstname.lastname@example.org) and we'll share the best of it.