Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 26 No. 178
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.

SBJ Unpacks: Coronavirus -- All Systems Go At Darlington

There are still many hard questions facing the return of sports, but one big one appears to finally be getting answered in a good way: COVID-19 testing.

The total number of tests conducted in the U.S. topped 10 million on Thursday, according to The Atlantic’s COVID Tracking Project, with Monday and Thursday posting the two biggest daily gains in testing since the start of the pandemic. Now, more than 300,000 people are being tested daily, a dramatic increase from most of the last two months.

Testing still must become far more common to actually stop the pandemic, but those stats are an incredibly positive trend for leagues that have conditioned their return on easy, frequent testing for all participants. 

Meanwhile, we’ll be watching two more test cases this weekend: Bundesliga action starts in Germany on Saturday, the first team sport outside of Asia to return, and then NASCAR drops the long-awaited green flag at Darlington on Sunday. 

--- Ben Fischer

 

STORIES YOU NEED TO READ:

 

PHELPS: NASCAR "GOING TO KEEP PEOPLE SAFE" AT DARLINGTON

  • On Sunday morning, about 900 workers that NASCAR has deemed essential will load into their cars, haulers and motor coaches and drive to Darlington, S.C., for a race that will be unlike any before it, writes SBJ's Bill King. They will be admitted to the speedway at rigidly scheduled times, go through health screenings, and then head off to their assigned positions, masked and socially distanced whenever possible.

  • There will be no practice laps. No qualifying runs. Drivers will walk, masked, from the relative solitude of their RVs to the complete solitude of their race cars, start their engines, and go. Fox’ announce team will call the race from a Charlotte studio, complemented by a single pit reporter at the track.
  • NASCAR President Steve Phelps discussed the vast array of changes that go along with the sport’s return on the latest episode of the SBJ Unpacks podcast.

  • “The plan we have in place is dozens of pages long,” Phelps said. “And it has been vetted with local, state and federal health officials to make sure we are going back and folks are going to be safe. Non-essential personnel, like me, will be outside of the footprint. But if you think about our sport, all the crews and the drivers and officials. The production people. It’s about 900 people. But the protocols are in place. And we are confident we are going to keep people safe. We would not go back if we thought otherwise.”

  • How does NASCAR define “essential” in the context of a race? “For starters, if you asked people in this industry who are essential personnel, there would be more than 900 who raised their hand,” Phelps said. “I had a sales guy email me and say, ‘Hey, I’ll do the testing; do the whole thing. I want to be in the garage that first race back at Darlington.’ I thought to myself: There is no one to sell anything to. I would suggest that would be non-essential personnel.”

 

 

MLB CLUB PREPARES "ANTIBODY POSITIVE" BALLPARK SECTION

  • According to one National League team, if you've tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies, meaning that you've already recovered from the virus, you will have qualified to sit in a special "Antibody Positive" section of their ballpark once small gatherings of fans are allowed to return to MLB venues.

  • A club exec told SBJ's Eric Prisbell that they anticipate creating designated sections in the ballpark for individuals who are certified to be antibody positive. "Maybe there'd be less social distancing restrictions in those sections," the executive said, "because those folks are able to sit closer together and have more contact because of their status of being positive for the antibodies."

  • Several execs across the sport said they are optimistic that small gatherings of fans -- a few thousand -- will be permitted to return to most ballparks at some point later this season. But Dr. Daniel Eichner, president of the Sports Medicine Research & Testing Laboratory that will conduct routine testing for MLB players and staff, told SBJ it remains unknown in the medical community whether everyone who possesses COVID antibodies has immunity from contracting the virus again and, if so, for how long.

  • Another concept the club executive broached is re-purposing luxury suites for groups like a collection of people who work in the same office space (once work-from-home policies are eased), because their work relationships establishes them almost as an extended family. In the suite, they'd have their own restroom and food, and would be able to be closer physically because of their status as colleagues.

  • "They are kind of like a cluster, in a good way, of people who are cleared to be around each other," the executive said, adding that the opportunity to have some fans return to games in 2020 would afford teams the chance to "at least beta test on a smaller scale some of these new practices and protocols because that will be invaluable to get us prepared for 2021."

 

 

ATP, WTA TOURS EXTEND SUSPENSION OF PLAY THROUGH END OF JULY

  • The ATP and WTA announced this morning that the two tours will extend their current suspensions of play through the end of July, impacting 10 more tournaments and bringing the total number of top-level pro tennis tournaments altered by the COVID-19 pandemic to 46, writes SBJ's Bret McCormick. Tennis has stood still since March 11 when the BNP Paribas Open was canceled the night before the tournament was to begin.

  • The ATP and WTA both suspended play in April, a competition pause that ran through July 12 until this most recent extension. Two American ATP tournaments, the Hall of Fame Open (starting July 13) and Truist Atlanta Open (starting July 27), were caught up in the ATP’s half of the suspension extension, along with events in Sweden, Mexico, Croatia and Austria. Events in Hamburg and Switzerland that also fall under the new suspension had already been imperiled by bans on large gatherings thru Aug. 31 in their respective countries. Four WTA events were additionally impacted, including tournaments in Sweden, Switzerland, Romania and Latvia.

  • For more on this story, click here.

 

UNCERTAIN FUTURE OF ROGERS CUP "DEVASTATING" FOR TENNIS CANADA

  • If Tennis Canada is unable to hold the men’s half of the Rogers Cup this year, the organization would lose about $24 million, according to Tennis Canada CEO Michael Downey. Downey told SBJ’s Bret McCormick that the organization is hugely dependent on the tournament, half of which is held in Montreal and half in Toronto.

  • The women’s portion in Montreal has already been called off due to a local government ban on large gatherings. The men’s half starts Aug. 10 in Toronto and Tennis Canada is exploring holding a no-fan tournament. ATP competition is suspended through the end of July and Downey said he expects the tour to decide in mid-June on whether the August events will go forward, or not. “To lose Montreal and probably to lose Toronto is going to be devastating for us,” said Downey. 

  • Following the April 11 cancellation of the women’s portion, and in anticipation of bad news regarding the men’s half of the event, Tennis Canada began reducing expenses, eliminating 40% of its staff, instituting furloughs, and reducing the pay of some employees by 25%. There will be major cutbacks in grassroots tennis funding in the country over the next few years, Downey said, but even with those expense-saving efforts, Tennis Canada is still going to lose at least $17 million this year.

  • The financial struggles are especially disappointing given the momentum that Tennis Canada carried into 2020. In 2019, Bianca Andreescu became the first Canadian to win a Grand Slam, the country reached the finals of the Davis Cup and a handful of young Canadian men continued their steady climbs up the ATP rankings. “To start the year with such expectations and then basically, within three months, kind of have the rug pulled out from under the sport in the country is just shocking,” said Downey.
     

 

SURVEY: REMOTE WORK COULD BECOME PERMANENT SOLUTION

  • Around 43% of CFOs are considering making remote work a permanent solution for any role that can accommodate it, while less than two-thirds are “very confident” their company can create a safe workplace environment for employees, according SBJ’s David Broughton, citing a new industry survey conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers.

  • Additionally, 47% of the CFOs are planning to develop additional alternate sourcing options for their supply chains. and 50% are looking at worker protections, improving benefits and improving staff well-being. PwC has fielded a comparable study of 300+ CFOs and finance leaders in the U.S. every other week dating back to March 9, for a total of five surveys. 

  • “We’re hearing across the board from the CFO community there’s a real focus on not only how do you protect a culture in this environment where there’s a lot of remote working and working differently, but also how do you evolve a culture and reshape it so it’s competitive going forward,” said Tim Ryan, U.S. Chair & Senior Partner of PwC. He said that even though having employees work remotely is “not without its challenges, work is able to get done.”

  • Separately from CFOs, PwC surveyed 400+ workers who have been working remotely or have had to stop work altogether during this crisis. Of this group, more than half said that their top concern preventing them from going back to work is the fear of getting the virus; 24% are unwilling to use public transport for their work commute; and 21% cited a significant reason why they wouldn’t be able to come back to work is that they are currently responsible as a parent or a caregiver for others which require them to stay at home.

  

WORKING FROM HOME WITH WSC SPORTS’ DANIEL SHICHMAN

  • For WSC Sports co-Founder & CEO Daniel Shichman, figuring out which time zone he’s virtually headed to is a daily occurrence. The artificial intelligence-driven video production platform is based in Israel, but also has offices in N.Y. and Sydney.

  • Shichman’s typical non-stop travel to clients across the globe has turned into video conferences on Zoom, Google Hangouts, WhatsApp or Slack. He tries to spend time with his three boys until about 10:30 each morning before he starts working. “I spend most of my time in back-to-back video calls or phone calls. Whenever there is a phone call, I can go outside and kick some football (soccer) -- I got pretty good at free kicks,” he said.

  • WSC -- which has helped the NBA produce highlights and powered the PGA Tour’s “every shot” initiative that rolled out at the The Players (one round played) this year -- has not slowed down on client projects since sports shut down. “We're working together with them on how they can utilize their archived content in a smarter way, how they can use existing content in new ways and interactive formats, what they can pitch their sponsors,” Shichman said.

  • WSC Sports has even added 18 clients in recent weeks. Shichman: “The fact that we can help them automate this content creation in the cloud, which means they don't need to come to the office, was really appealing for a lot of them.”

  • Israel has begun to relax some of its shutdown restrictions, such as schools re-opening. WSC Sports will continue working from home for the time being, though. Shichman’s advice is to “over communicate” with your teammates, and overall, he’s been impressed with the industry. “I can honestly say only good things. It's a hard situation for everyone. … And everyone is working together, from our experience, really well together and everyone understands that we're in a very unique situation.”

 

Shichman tries to spend time with his boys until about 10:30 each morning before he starts working
Shichman tries to spend time with his boys until about 10:30 each morning before he starts working
Shichman tries to spend time with his boys until about 10:30 each morning before he starts working

 

STATE OF THINGS: SLOWLY BUT SURELY

 

OUTSIDE CONTRIBUTORS: SPORTS' INDISPENSABLE VALUE

  • Tonight's op-ed contribution is from 17 Sport CEO & Founder Neill Duffy, who asks, "What can sports do to be considered an essential service?"

  • "What we need right now is a radically different approach that takes an infinite view on the role that sports can play in building a resilient society. In short, sports needs a just cause -- a purpose beyond just delivering entertainment and $$$ -- that it can rally all of its stakeholders around and leverage to fuel the birth of Sports 2.0 as an essential service to society."

  • To read Duffy's contribution, click here.

 

SPEED READS

  • The Ringer's Ryan Hunn writes under the header, "The Bundesliga Is Back In Body But Not In Spirit." Professional soccer in Germany will resume this weekend, but "safety concerns and 'ghost games' played in empty stadiums mark the occasion with melancholy rather than celebration." For more on the league's return, see SBD Global.

  • Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby voiced serious doubt Friday morning as to whether there will be a COVID vaccine before the fall football season. Bowlsby, appearing on Austin-based KVET-AM, said, "We're going to have to find ways to co-exist with the disease. ... This will be very expensive to disinfect and make game situations as safe as possible."

  • Canaccord Genuity analysts Maria Ripps and Michael Graham released their quarterly report on esports. Some key takeaways: 1)  Given viewership, esports ad revenue should hold up relatively well during the pandemic; 2) The esports betting market is heating up and DraftKings should benefit with its daily fantasy competitions.
  • Spire Sports + Entertainment is now officially the majority owner of the ECHL’s Greenville Swamp Rabbits and Rapid City Rush, writes SBJ’s Mark J. Burns. The vote by the ECHL’s BOG was unanimous. Charlotte-based Spire Sports, a talent management and consulting agency, already possessed a minority interest in the Rush during the 2019-20 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:

    • Report: MLB Likely To Halt Revenue Sharing Among Clubs In '20
    • Manfred Says MLB Will Provide Extensive Testing For Players, Staff
    • Nolan Arenado Weighs In On Blake Snell's Comments, Health Risks
    • NASCAR Sees Return To Track As Opportunity To Gain Fans
    • Flames GM Suggests News About NHL Restart Coming Next Week
    • MLS Extends Small Group Training Moratorium Through June 1
    • Stars To Undergo Second Round Of Furloughs Affecting Front Office
    • ATP, WTA Tours Extend Suspension Of Play Through End Of July
    • Conor McGregor Surprises Hospital Workers With Medical Gear

 

SBJ UNPACKS -- WEATHERING COVID-19

 

 

SIGN UP NOW FOR LEADERS WEEK DIRECT: MAY 18-21

  • Across the week, you’ll hear from some of the biggest names in sports, including NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, MLS Commissioner Don Garber, Cubs Chair Tom Ricketts and Amazon VP/Global Sports Marie Donoghue. Each day offers two hours of streamed content, where industry leaders will examine how the future of sport will change. In addition to the main content stream, there will be in-depth breakout sessions that will address specific challenges, plus networking with industry peers.
  • You can’t afford to miss this opportunity. For more details, click here.

 

 

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.