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Volume 26 No. 178
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SBJ Unpacks: Coronavirus -- NFL Practicing Caution For Players, Coaches' Return

It certainly feels as if momentum around the return of sports is growing.

As of today, NFL team facilities can re-open in limited fashion -- if allowed by states -- though football activities will have to wait. Meanwhile, negotiations to allow MLB to play in ballparks with no spectators continue.

As the traction -- at least for the moment -- grows, so too do the logistics and planning that make for some jarring changes. The organizers of the Belmont Stakes today said they plan to run the race on June 20 as the first leg of the Triple Crown instead of the traditional third and final leg.

But an upside-down sports schedule and TV-only audience is far better than a dark summer. I have to admit a newfound fascination watching old games, like the helmet-optional 1984 Stanley Cup playoffs.

--- John Lombardo

 

STORIES YOU NEED TO READ:

  

NFL UNDECIDED ON WHEN PLAYERS, COACHES CAN RETURN TO FACILITIES

  • Despite a growing sense of optimism about the NFL season, top league execs declined to predict when players and coaches would be allowed to return to league facilities, writes SBJ's Ben Fischer. “We’re not putting dates on this calendar at this point, because I’m looking (at) this not as date-based, but science and technology-based,” said NFL Chief Medical Officer Dr. Allen Sills during a conference call with reporters.

  • Earlier today, NFL teams were allowed to bring some business-side staffers back to team facilities for the first time since March 25 if local health laws allow. But that’s small potatoes compared to resuming football activities, which must start by July to avoid delaying training camps and the preseason. Sills said the NFL and NFLPA still want to see gains in COVID-19 testing capacity and accuracy, as well as to better understand how to manage exposure if a player or staffer tests positive.

  • “All of those things are continuing to evolve, and when we and the Players Association together feel like we’re at a point of satisfaction with that science, we’ll be ready to move forward,” Sills said. The NFL expects that some players will test positive, and they’re developing policies to handle that eventuality, he said. Sills took a more cautious tack than Commissioner Roger Goodell, who said last Friday in a memo that a return for some players could come “as early as next month.”


SOURCES: NFL OWNERS APPROVE RAISING DEBT LIMIT FOR TEAMS

  • NFL owners at their meeting today raised the debt limit for teams from $350 million to $500 million, a step designed to help teams weather the expected economic impact of the pandemic, sources told SBJ's Ben Fischer. Owners also allowed Roger Goodell and the owners’ finance committee to borrow more money at the league level if necessary. 

  • The 43% increase in the debt ceiling comes just two years after a decision to increase the limit from $250 million to $350 million. In 2019, the league allowed owners to borrow an additional $150 million against non-controlling shares of the team as a means of increasing liquidity. 

 

 

MLS CANCELS BIG EVENTS, INCLUDING ALL-STAR GAME

  • MLS canceled three tentpole events this afternoon, including the All-Star Game set for Los Angeles, writes SBJ’s Mark J. Burns, The game was previously scheduled for July 29 between MLS all-stars and top Liga MX players. The league plans to give this year's host venue, Banc of California Stadium, another opportunity to host in 2021.

  • The league also announced the cancellation of the Leagues Cup, which includes top MLS and Liga MX teams, as well as the Campeones Cup. The latter features the MLS champ and the winner of the Mexican league. The Campeones Cup will return next year, while both MLS and Liga MX plan to play the Leagues Cup in 2021.

 

MLB SOURCES: DEFERRING PLAYER SALARIES NOT FEASIBLE

  • With a wide chasm currently separating MLB owners from players on compensation for an abbreviated season, a potential compromise has been bandied about recently: deferring a portion of players' salaries, with interest, until 2021.

  • But two sources familiar with the owners' thinking told SBJ's Eric Prisbell that is not a feasible middle-ground solution because the economic crisis is clearly not a one-year issue. They shared similar sentiments that there is great uncertainty about what operations for 2021 will look like, and a salary deferment plan merely takes the sizable economic issues from this year and moves them to next year and beyond.

  • One source: "Deferrals just don't get you anywhere. Owners just don't have the revenue. The economics don't work." The issues on the ticket revenue front for 2021, they say, are multifaceted: How many fans will state and local officials permit in ballparks early in 2021? How comfortable will fans be in attending large, or relatively large, gatherings? And how will the nationwide economic crisis affect fans' discretionary income? All questions are critical to the long-term picture.

  • An MLB source with direct knowledge of the drafting of the league's 67-page health and safety proposal said the league is soliciting input on the detailed draft from the union, team execs, players and state and local health officials. That process is expected to play out this week.

  • In the meantime, on the financial side of the collective bargaining negotiations, it remains to be seen how MLB responds to the union's request for myriad financial documents and whether the league will still formally present the union with a 50-50 revenue-sharing plan since union chief Tony Clark called the plan a non-starter. 

 

HARVEY SCHILLER LOOKS AT THE ROAD AHEAD

 

PREMIER LEAGUE REVEALS SIX POSITIVE CASES FROM CORONAVIRUS TESTS

  • The EPL “revealed that six players or staff tested positive for coronavirus in its first two days of testing,” per The Guardian. The league carried out 748 tests on Sunday and Monday and said that the positive tests were "spread across three clubs." No further details were given and it is "understood the league is awaiting results from one more club." The Bundesliga earlier this month announced 10 positive results from 1,724 tests on players and staff at clubs in the top two tiers.

  • Sky Sports' Bryan Swanson writes the fact that there are six positive tests "must be taken seriously," but those figures also show that the virus is "not widespread" in EPL clubs at the moment, at least not amongs the 40 people tested per club. Up to 50 people from each club "will be tested in each round going forward, twice a week, after a request by clubs, meaning up to 2,000 test results a week will be provided" to the EPL. Prenetics, the company conducting the tests, told Sky Sports that it "can cope with increased demand."

 

 

BIG WEEK SHAPING UP FOR COLLEGE FOOTBALL

  • The NCAA D-I Council meets tomorrow and the moratorium for on-campus activities, which runs through May 31, is on the agenda, writes Michael Smith in tonight's SBJ College newsletter. The council, which is the chief rules-making body, could vote to lift the moratorium. If that happens, it would set the table for schools and conferences to bring their athletes back to campus.
  • The SEC is poised to takes its own action when university presidents meet on a call Friday. If the campus leaders agree, they could reopen athletic facilities as soon as June 1. Based on recent comments from multiple ADs in the conference, it would be surprising if they don’t. Other conferences will likely follow. The SEC, however, has not officially announced a vote on resuming athletic activities.
  • College football's 2020 season starts with limited games on Aug. 29 and a full slate on Sept. 5. That gives athletes a full 6-8 weeks to condition in July and hold training camps in August. That’s been considered best-case scenario all along and if campuses re-open athletic facilities in June, those dates appear within reach. It’s worth reminding how quickly things have changed -- almost by the hour -- over the last 10 weeks. 

 

WORKING FROM HOME WITH FLYERS CFO BLAIR LISTINO

  • While most sports execs have been making do from kitchen tables and living room recliners during quarantine, Blair Listino has been fulfilling her duties as CFO of the Flyers, Wells Fargo Center and Spectacor Gaming from what she calls a “she shed” in her backyard in Media, Pa., about 30 minutes outside Philadelphia. Listino: “My husband called it a bar. I call it a shed. … It has electricity and heat and air conditioning and a fan, but it's just a shed.” Her strategy: “I actually say goodbye to my children when I leave so they think I'm going to work … and I walk outside to my 10-step commute.”

  • It’s impossible to predict what coronavirus protocols will look like next month or even next week, so Listino has stayed busy making as many preparations as she can. “From a financial standpoint, I think I have modeled out just about every possible scenario of what we could do,” she said. “It started off with really simple scenarios at the start and now it's become much more complex with considering a social distancing model.” Listino: “We're trying to be creative and then we're also trying just to make sure that we follow the guidelines of both the NHL and the NBA.”

  • Microsoft Teams is the top choice of communication for Listino. “My staff is very creative in putting backgrounds on to make me smile or laugh during the day,” she said. Those can range from the Wells Fargo Center to “Game of Thrones” to a group shot in Listino’s infamous “she shed” and of course, the one and only Gritty. Between it all, Listino tries to keep a normal routine: head outside at 9:00am, pop back in for lunch and return for dinner around 6:00pm. “Since we’ve been in quarantine, I’ve only missed one dinner, which would never happen (otherwise),” she said.

  • With bars and restaurants unavailable, Listino and her husband decided to learn how to make cocktails at home. One favorite so far? “The Filibuster.” Ingredients include an egg white, maple syrup and bourbon. “It’s a really interesting drink. I’ve enjoyed it and it’s really pretty, too,” Listino said.

 

Listino makes a point to pop back into the house for lunch with the family during each work day
Listino makes a point to pop back into the house for lunch with the family during each work day
Listino makes a point to pop back into the house for lunch with the family during each work day

 

SPEED READS

  • Fox Bet launched in Colorado today, becoming the sixth sportsbook site to roll out since the state opened for legal and regulated sports wagering at the start of the month, writes SBJ's Bill King. It joins BetMGM, FanDuel, DraftKings, BetRivers and PointsBet USA in what will be a crowded market, with at least 20 sites in the licensing pipeline. Fox Bet also operates in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Also today, online betting giant Bet365 announced that it will join the fray in Colorado via an access deal through land-based Century Casinos.
  • The Ringer’s Sean Fennessey, on “The Big Picture” podcast, said the current absence of most sports is an “amazing issue" when considering the marketing of summer tentpole movies, such as the upcoming "Tenet" from director Christopher Nolan, "because sports (are) the most popular live entertainment and frankly the most popular entertainment that we have in our culture.” Fennessey: “The way that people become aware of most other things in our culture -- TV shows, movies, products -- is from people sitting around watching sports. … If you’re not driving around looking at billboards, and you’re not watching Sunday NFL or the NBA Finals, without those things, how do you even become aware of ‘Tenet’?”

  • Boston Marathon organizers "remain in active consultation with governmental entities to see if they can avoid canceling the event for the first time in 124 years." Even with the marathon postponed to Sept. 14, the "magnitude of ensuring runners and spectators stay safe and do not become vectors of the coronavirus is a colossal one," writes the Boston Globe's Michael Silverman.

  • SI's Pat Forde writes in regards to the revamped Triple Crown, one of the "most rigid sporting constructs in American history has been temporarily reinvented in a way that could be really good." Forde: "The Belmont, which sometimes is huge and sometimes a complete anticlimax, gets first run; the Preakness, forever the overlooked middle child, has a chance to stage a grand finale; and the Derby will retain its cachet as America’s greatest race."
  • The NLL N.Y. Riptide and the franchisees of Jersey Mike’s on Long Island have partnered to provide lunch to about 60 area senior rehabilitation, nursing and care centers that have been impacted by the pandemic. The Riptide and Jersey Mike’s have dropped-off lunch at 16 locations per week the last three weeks and will have one more round of drop-offs tomorrow morning.

 

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:

    • New York, California, Texas Pols Offer Hope For Return Of Sports
    • Player-Salary Issue Remains Critical Hurdle For MLB's Return
    • Fertitta To Trump: "Momentum Is Building" For NBA's Return
    • MSE's Ted Leonsis Believes Leagues Will Return Using "Bubble" Cities
    • Bettman: NHL Looking At 8-9 Sites As Options To Resume Season
    • Dana White Calls Out HBO's John Oliver For UFC 249 Criticism
    • Kings To Furlough Portion Of Full-Time Employees For Four Months
    • PBR Unveils Plan For Fans To Attend South Dakota Event
    • IWBI Forms Advisory Panel For New Facility Health-Safety Rating

 

SBJ UNPACKS -- WEATHERING COVID-19

 

  

NOMINATIONS OPEN FOR SBJ GAME CHANGERS!

Online nominations for Game Changers opened yesterday. 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 (akarp@sportsbusinessjournal.com) and we'll share the best of it.