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Volume 27 No. 35
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SBJ Unpacks: Coronavirus -- MLB's Return Caught In A Pickle?

Like many, I began my morning by reading about Dr. Anthony Fauci’s plan to warn the Senate Health Committee of the “needless suffering and death” that could be associated with a premature reopening of the nation. Yet while the headlines have largely focused on the possibility of sparking a new outbreak, what struck me most in today’s testimony was Fauci’s indication that a resurgence of cases is inevitable. “There is no doubt, even under the best of circumstances, when you pull back on mitigation you will see some cases appear,” said Fauci.

That doesn’t mean we can’t lift restrictions, but Fauci was clear that the only way to do so is with the backing of an extensive response plan: “It’s the ability and capability of responding to those cases with good identification, isolation and contact tracing that will determine whether you can continue to go forward.” Those words seem especially relevant to the sports world’s leadership as leagues around the globe begin eyeing a return to play.

If positive tests are inevitable, then any return plan must be able to answer a very vital question: What happens next?

NBA commissioner Adam Silver had an answer to that question in last week’s conference call, suggesting frequent testing would allow individual players to be isolated before putting others at risk. Other leagues haven’t been so cautious. UFC 249 went ahead despite positive tests, and the Bundesliga returns this weekend even though an entire team has already been forced to quarantine at home. We won’t be celebrating these returns for long if they precede new rounds of outbreaks.

As we clamor for the return of live sports, let’s all keep in sight the simple fact that we are far from out of the woods. Be mindful, be patient and, most of all, be safe.

---  Chris Smith

 

MLB, UNION NEGOTIATIONS JUST GETTING STARTED

  • At the onset of negotiations between MLB and the MLBPA, both sides made predictable opening moves, writes SBJ's Eric Prisbell. MLB's return-to-play plan, approved yesterday by owners, included a revenue-sharing element that the league must have known would prompt a quick reaction from the union. That's exactly what happened when union chief Tony Clark said that a revenue-sharing plan is a non-starter. The next negotiating move by either side is the one to watch. 

  • Is the union willing to budge at all from its stance that players should receive prorated salaries based on the number of games played in 2020 because that's what the two sides agreed upon in March? There is no indication to date that it will back off from that. It equates a revenue-sharing plan to a salary cap, and that is a hard no in the union's eyes. There's also the understanding that any concession players make now could set the stage and tenor for negotiations over a new CBA, which expires in December 2021.

  • The unknown here is precisely what level of financial distress some clubs will be in if they have to play spectator-less games for most, if not all, of a shortened 2020 season. They won't open their books. But the next move by MLB should give some indication of how owners view the financial feasibility of starting a shortened season in ballparks without fans. 

 

DOES MLB HAVE MOST TO GAIN BY RETURNING TO PLAY?

  • Despite the current tenor between MLB and the players’ union, FS1’s Colin Cowherd and Jon Morosi believe there is too much ample opportunity for baseball to capture the sports spotlight for negotiations to drag on much longer. Cowherd earlier this afternoon on “The Herd said the current situation could give baseball something it hasn’t had in years: “Talk-show debates nationally … and social currency.”

  • Morosi said both MLB and the union “realize that if they’re among the first major team sports to come back, they have a special place at the table, culturally speaking.” Morosi: “That’s what baseball needs, and in the midst of everything we’re going through, there is that opportunity.” One example of how the sport can capitalize on its return is to let the players “introduce themselves to the country in a way they really haven’t before.” Morosi: “You’ve got some great young stars in baseball now who are really accessible, we just haven’t heard from them maybe as much as we’ve been listening. It’s a great opportunity for baseball and baseball players to reach out in that way.”

  • Asked for a timeline of when talks could become more productive, Morosi said it was “no accident that this proposal was made here in the middle part of May with plenty of runway before spring training would begin about a month from now.” He added, “We’ll probably hear through the media in the next couple weeks strong statements on both sides, maybe even some hints that an agreement is unlikely. But I still believe, because of everything that’s at stake right here, that there’s a better than 50-50 chance that there’s a meaningful agreement made.”



 

NFL OWNERS TO VOTE ON ALLOWING NEW LEAGUE-LEVEL BORROWING

  • Scoop from SBJ's Ben FischerNFL owners will vote next week on a measure allowing Commissioner Roger Goodell and the finance committee to increase league-level debt to cover pandemic-related losses, sources said. The permission to increase borrowing will be decided concurrently with a proposal to raise teams' debt limit from $350M to $500M, a 43% increase.

  • Teams typically can either access the league-level credit facility or borrow independently. While no decision has yet been made on whether the league will follow through with additional borrowing, authorizing the finance committee to take that step is a recognition that some teams may encounter difficulties borrowing on their own, one source said.

  • Both steps come after NFL CFO Joe Siclare and his team conducted stress tests on all 32 teams, exploring how their books would fare during the worst-case scenario for NFL teams -- spectator-less games in which players would still be due their full salaries while teams lost most of their local revenue. Because of the league’s strong national TV contracts, most of the financial stress caused by that scenario would be felt by teams.

  • For more from Fischer on league-level borrowing, click here

 

NASCAR TEAM SPONSORS TO PAY TRIBUTE AT DARLINGTON

  • Several NASCAR team sponsors will run special paint schemes for Sunday’s race at Darlington that thank health care workers and others on the frontline of the pandemic response, reports SBJ's Adam Stern. M&M’s Chocolate, DeWalt and Caterpillar are three brands who are running such paint schemes, while a host of other companies are also expected to take part. 

  • M&M’s scheme on Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 Toyota shows two of its famous characters on the rear quarter panels of the car -- one of which is wearing a nurse’s hat and the other of whom is wearing a hard hat and safety glasses like a construction worker. Caterpillar’s scheme is part of a company-wide campaign to thank truckers and other community members who are moving their areas forward amid the pandemic. Its paint scheme on RCR’s No. 8 Chevrolet reads: “Thank you for keeping the world working.”

  • Sunday’s race is going to lean heavy into honoring health care workers, as Fox also announced today that it has worked with its local affiliates to select 36 health care workers across the country who will serve as special grand marshals in a video clip that will show them simultaneously giving the command to start engines. 
     
  • Meanwhile, NASCAR hasn’t yet announced the name of Sunday’s Cup Series race, but sources say the name could involve thanking frontline heroes as well.

 

 

 

LPGA SET TO DEBUT VIRTUAL OFFERING AT FAMED COURSES

  • Add the LPGA to the list of properties rolling out virtual competition during the pandemic, writes SBJ's John Lombardo. Beginning tomorrow, the LPGA will launch LPGA eTour Live, a match-play esports competition in a partnership with the online World Golf Tour by Topgolf.

  • Eight LPGA and developmental Symetra Tour players will play head-to-head in a series of seven nine-hole, online matches twice a week beginning tomorrow, culminating with a championship match on Wednesday, June 3. All matches will stream live on LPGA and Topgolf digital platforms at 2pm ET. Tomorrow’s first match between sisters Jessica Korda and Nelly Korda will feature Congressional Country Club’s Blue Course, home to the 2022 and 2027 KPMG Women’s PGA Championship

  • Players can choose from numerous famed courses in the WGT portfolio, including the Old Course at St Andrews, Oakmont Country Club, Pinehurst No. 2 and Pebble Beach Golf Links.  

  

CALIFORNIA STATE UNIVERSITY DECISION COULD IMPACT FOOTBALL

  • There are still a full three months before the 2020-21 school year is set to begin, but the California State University chancellor has already made a call, and it looks like there will be no in-person classes on its 23 campuses this fall, with just a few exceptions. SBJ's Michael Smith writes that’s significant because most university leaders have said it would be extremely difficult to justify playing sports if students are not allowed on campus. This could potentially impact three football-playing Mountain West schools -- Fresno State, San Diego State and San Jose State.

  • Chancellor Tim White, speaking to trustees a few hours ago, explained that his decision was based on data from the coronavirus outbreak and forecasts that indicate it could spread further. White left open the possibility of changing his mind if circumstances in California change. There was no statement on the impact on athletics, but the sense today is that this is a discouraging development for college athletics this fall. It also shines a brighter light on the conversation about how to conduct a season if some schools play football and others don’t.

 

 

WORKING FROM HOME WITH ATHLETES FIRST PARTNERS’ JENE ELZIE

  • Athletes First Partners Chief Growth Officer Jene Elzie has been sheltering-in-place with her boyfriend in Cold Spring, N.Y., a town about 50 miles north of NYC. “We are surrounded by nature, which is a nice break from the apartment life,” she said. Elzie is keeping things simple, despite her original ideas for remote working. “I had dreams of a sit-stand desk, multiple screens and one of those ergonomically correct chairs,” she said. “But then I realized that a laptop, a phone and a beautiful countryside view is the peak of my home office ambitions.”

  • Athletes First Partners, a sister agency of Athletes First -- which repped the most first round NFL draft picks this year -- has employees scattered across the eastern seaboard. Many have temporarily relocated from N.Y. “Regular check-ins are essential,” Elzie said. “For my team, it’s not so much about what you’re doing and when, but is about how are you doing?” She believes it is of the upmost importance to “maintain humanity” right now. That means pivoting towards more relatable content and stories. “Our work with the NBPA and the Retired Players Association continues to keep going, and the work we have seen their leadership take on … has been really impressive,” she said.

  • Elzie -- a former Stanford gymnast -- sticks to a fairly tight regimen: “Wake up, meditate, breakfast, exercise, work, relax/happy hour, rinse, repeat,” she spelled out. “Structure is a core component of my own sanity, so I find it works out well. And, we have a dog and a cat to keep us entertained ... or maybe we keep them entertained, I’m not sure.”

  • Quarantine has allowed Elzie to catch up on some U.S. TV shows she missed out on while living in London most of the last decade working for the NBA. Right now, she’s knee-deep in “The Walking Dead” and “The Americans.” Elzie has also learned to play chess recently. “Our nightly games have taught me how useful it would have been to learn chess earlier in my career,” she said. “Strategy is a skill, skills are like a muscle, muscles only develop with exercise.”

 

Elzie has been taking advantage of her countryside view while working from home in Cold Spring, N.Y.

  

SPEED READS

  • In tonight's SBJ College, Michael Smith catches up with AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco, whose conference is taking a hard look at regionalized scheduling for sports other than football and men’s/women’s basketball to help schools save money. Smith writes that makes a lot of sense for the AAC and other far-flung conferences like the Sun Belt and C-USA to cut costs.
  • The NBPA has "started polling its membership" about how individuals "stand on a return to play this season," according to sources cited by ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski. NBPA regional representatives -- including Tim McCormick and Frank Brickowski -- were "among the union officials polling players with a yes or no question on their current desire to return to play this season amid the coronavirus pandemic."
  • USA Gymnastics has canceled all premier events through the end of 2020, per SBJ's Chris Smith. New dates were announced for the U.S. Classic (May 22, 2021) and the national championships (June 3-6, 2021). New dates for other premier events, including the Olympic Trials, have yet to be determined. Tickets to this year’s events will be rolled over for the 2021 editions, though ticket holders will also be offered the opportunity to request refunds. The 2020 National Congress & Trade Show will be reformatted into a virtual event.
  • Cablefax notes that FuboTV CEO David Gandler yesterday in an interview with Canaccord Genuity analyst Maria Ripps said that the streamer “remained largely unaffected by the COVID-19 pandemic” through Q1, in part because the platform “focuses a large portion of its marketing budget towards the start of the NFL season” in Q3. Gandler: “Even advertisers that were specific sports advertisers are still now looking to get into non-live, short of adjacent programming because they believe seasons will start soon. … Things will recover going into the fall, which is really when you’ll see significant growth in our sub numbers.”

  • TNT's Ernie Johnson said it's been a "drastic change" being home every night with his family outside Atlanta rather than at the Turner studios for the NBA Playoffs. Johnson and his wife Cheryl spend their time checking in on his mother, who lives 45 minutes away, and taking care of their son Michael, who has muscular dystrophy. Johnson told SBD's Joe Perez, "I keep saying we'll get through this. And I still believe we will, but, man, every day is kind of like, let's get through this day and then we'll get through tomorrow. We'll worry about tomorrow when it gets here.” For more from Johnson, check out today's issue of SBD.

  • Based on an analysis of how seven other countries introduced sports back into the economy, Navigate projects the earliest resumption of U.S. team sports to fall between August 29 and October 5. Some individual sports like golf or MMA might resume quicker, and creative solutions that differ from the usual league format and require less outside contact and travel could move team sports sooner as well. Here's a quick overview of the seven countries.

 

 

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 Sees League's Revenue-Sharing Proposal As A "Non-Starter"
    • Columnists: MLB, Union Need To Hash Out Differences To Save Season
    • MiLB Warming To MLB's Contraction Plan Amid Pandemic
    • Extending CBA Opt Out Lets NBA Deal With Pandemic Realities
    • Details Emerge On MLS' Possible Orlando Return Plan
    • Disneyland Dallas? Cuban Talks Potential Arena Changes
    • Warriors' Chase Center Layoffs Largest Confirmed In Bay Area
    • USC's Clay Helton Says Conference-Only Schedule A Possibility
    • Dodgers' Baseball Brass Taking Care Of L.A. Healthcare Workers

 

SBJ UNPACKS -- WEATHERING COVID-19

 

 

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Something related to coronavirus and sports business catch your eye? Tell us about it. Reach out to Austin Karp (akarp@sportsbusinessjournal.com) and we'll share the best of it.