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Volume 26 No. 225
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SBJ Unpacks: MLB Digs In

Well, it was fun while it lasted.

Just days into its long-awaited restart, MLB is now contending with a full-blown COVID-19 outbreak, as a reported 14 members of the Marlins’ traveling group have tested positive since Friday. Tonight’s home opener against Baltimore is postponed, as is Yankees at Phillies (Miami played in Philly yesterday, even after four players tested positive).

This is the harsh reality of playing sports during a pandemic, and all eyes will be on MLB as it scrambles to avoid an even wider fallout that could put the season in jeopardy. That may already be the case if the Marlins face a prolonged shutdown, as one leading epidemiologist suggests to SBJ’s Eric Prisbell below. 

Also under the microscope? The NFL. The league is moving full speed ahead with neither a bubble nor even baseball’s on-field spacing. No wonder league execs are keeping such close tabs on MLB’s handling of the outbreak.

-- Chris Smith



  • MLB owners today held a regular conference call, and there was reportedly "no talk of canceling the season" in the wake of the Marlins' positive tests and multiple game cancellations, per Bleacher Report's Scott Miller. The Marlins news is "sobering for the game," but the "plan remains to try & manage pandemic." The league office will "redouble health directives, e.g. players must wear masks in clubhouses," and it will "reinforce on-field behavior prohibitions against high-fiving, spitting."

  • Dr. Zach Binney, an epidemiologist at Oxford College at Emory University, told SBJ's Eric Prisbell that the Marlins "need to shut down for the next two weeks while they quarantine everyone who was in the club's traveling party to Philadelphia." Binney: "You have over a dozen people in your organization sick with a potentially very serious virus that they could spread around to teammates, staff members or, if you send them back home, to their families. ...  We need to take a moment to deal with this on a human level, not just trying to push forward as business as usual. I guess you can fill in those spots, but I think you can assume every Marlin that was a member of the traveling party is potentially infected right now."

  • It remains to be seen what the next steps are for the Phillies, whose home game tonight against the Yankees has also been postponed. Binney believes that, if MLB wants to be cautious, those within the team’s organization who are deemed as potentially high risk of infection, based on their proximity to any Marlins during last weekend's series, should be immediately placed in a five-day probationary quarantine. While he did not believe the Phillies need to shut down for a period of time at this point, he said that just one round of testing today will not be a conclusive indication of which players, if any, could have been infected during the series.

  • The baseball world continues to process the gravity of the situation. When asked about his level of concern considering the fact he had heart issues last September, Nationals manager Dave Martinez told reporters, "I'll be honest with you, I'm scared. I really am." 

  • For more on MLB's situation, click here. Also, check out SBD's breakdown of the league's strong viewership over its opening week.




  • The Marlins’ outbreak came as a stark reminder for NFL executives of how quickly their COVID-19 mitigation plans could all unravel without rigorous discipline from everyone involved, writes SBJ's Ben Fischer. Like MLB, the NFL has eschewed the bubble concept and intends on flying teams around the country to play in each others’ stadiums, and to allow players to come and go from team facilities. That’s the weakness in the NFL’s hopes of staying on track, said one AFC club executive, who worries about player behavior when they’re not at work.

  • “We’re doing everything the league is telling us to do to prepare accordingly, but we can’t be their babysitters as well,” the exec said. “We can’t live their lives for them. They have to be a part of it.” This same exec also said he and others around the NFL are watching closely for how MLB adjusts its season, and for how the public reacts to MLB’s decision to cancel two games but maintain the rest of the schedule despite concerns the outbreak could be wider than currently known.

  • This afternoon, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote a letter to fans, telling them to prepare for a season full of unpredictability. “Adaptability and flexibility will be needed for the foreseeable future,” Goodell said. “After all, even the best game plan changes as new challenges arise.”

  • See more here.



  • MLS has now released eight consecutive reports of zero positive COVID-19 cases for those players, coaches, staff and other personnel staying at the host hotel in Orlando as part of the MLS is Back Tournament, writes SBJ’s Mark J. Burns. Late Sunday evening, the league announced it tested 884 people from July 24-25 with no positive cases. It’s a streak that stretches over two weeks.

  • Earthquakes coach Matias Almeyda told SBJ, "MLS has always stood out due to their way of organizing everything. ... They have taken the right measure to prioritize the health and safety of the players and everyone else in (the bubble). ... We get tested every two days. We eat and then head back to our rooms. We train and then head back to our rooms. We have an hour to go to the pool outside. So, we have tried to take care of ourselves, but the league has also protected every one of us."

  • Meanwhile, the NHL -- which is prepared to resume play Saturday in Edmonton and Toronto -- announced earlier today that there were no positive cases for players from July 18-25 after 4,256 tests were administered to 800-plus individuals. During the league’s two-week training camp period, just two players tested positive for the coronavirus. Both occurred in the July 13-17 window.




  • As the production services provider of the MLS is Back Tournament inside the Orlando bubble, ESPN production execs Amy Rosenfeld and Mike Foss are charged with leading through a number of pandemic-related complexities. These include managing and safely spacing personnel on site, a workload of up to three match slots per day in the scorching central Florida heat and implementing and developing new broadcast technologies designed to bring the games -- and advertisements -- closer to fans who cannot attend in person.

  • Rosenfeld told SBD's Andrew Levin, “It’s hard because we all came off of sort of this layoff where we were all working, but we’re at our homes. You’re in your normal routine. You’re attempting to get eight hours of sleep. The first couple of days -- that getting back at 2:00am and being back at 5:00am, 6:00am -- you have to sort of gear yourself up for that.” 

  • Foss said of broadcasting live sports amid the pandemic, “We don’t know what we don’t know. It is an ever-changing landscape. … With ESPN in particular, we have resurrected, invented, managed new models that put a whole variety of tools on the pallet for us.”

  • For more on the net’s role in Orlando, check out the latest episode of the SBJ Unpacks podcast.


  • Duke men’s basketball Creative Director Dave Bradley has been tasked with carving out an appropriate social media strategy for the program during the pandemic and the shifting times related to social justice.

  • Bradley told SBJ's David Rumsey, “The biggest thing I tried to do was not rush to anything. … Of course we wanted to say things as well and enter the conversation when it was appropriate. But when we're going to do so, it needed to be -- more important than ever -- that what was put out was representative of how the program felt.”

  • Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski’s video on Black Lives Matter last month, while only a few minutes long, took a lot of work to set up and make sure the message was accurately delivered. Bradley: “Even to get to that point, it was multiple Zooms with former players -- a couple of them with a hundred-plus former players – coach having a lot of conversations. … Although it was a pretty simple video, it wasn’t a rushed statement, a lot of thought went into it.”

  • One new initiative for Duke this summer is an educational series, for now virtual, called The Brotherhood CEO, for players to learn about branding, communication, and social media. Bradley: “It's an opportunity for us to help educate our players and assist them no matter what happens on court. …  Some of the changes that are coming down with name, image and likeness, it makes branding and social media even way more important to an incoming Duke basketball player than it was even 12 months ago.”


Bradley has been tasked with carving out an appropriate social media strategy for the Duke program during the pandemic
Bradley has been tasked with carving out an appropriate social media strategy for the Duke program during the pandemic
Bradley has been tasked with carving out an appropriate social media strategy for the Duke program during the pandemic



  • Tonight's op-ed contribution is from Arcadia University professor Larry Atkins, who writes under the header, "Filling Stadiums With Fans Is Shortsighted And Dangerous."

  • "It's true that fans are an essential part of sports. They add to the energy and passion that fuels sports. They inspire the home team, intimidate the visiting team, and can influence the referees. There is a distinct home field and home court advantage that is reflected in point spreads and final scores. ... (But) the health risk isn't worth the three hours of sports fans' pandemonium at the stadium."

  • To read the full contribution, click here.



  • The Class AA Rocket City Trash Pandas’ strong merchandise sales blasted even higher this weekend following the release of a T-shirt that sums up the MiLB season, per SBJ's David Broughton. More than 800 shirts have been sold since pre-orders began Thursday evening, generating more than $40,000 for the club. The item was conceived by Lisa Nelson, who runs the club’s retail operation, and will be made by Brimm Ridder. Team president & CEO Ralph Nelson (yes, Lisa’s husband) said the team sold $11,400 Friday night, just $500 short of their top record-setting day in 2018. Also, you can read in this week's print edition of SBJ how the club helped propel MiLB to a record year in merchandise sales last year.



  • The San Jose Mercury News' Jon Wilner notes while Cal, USC and Washington State have approved plans to shift to remote-only instruction this fall, "football planning rolls on," seeming to contradict Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott's previous stance on fall sports' viability being tied to students in the classroom. Wilner: "Is the conference’s resolve to prioritize the health of the athletes weakening as the season approaches and the economic imperative of football take center stage?"

  • Kyrie Irving is "making sure WNBA players can sit out the season and not stress about a paycheck," per the AP. The Nets guard is "committing $1.5 million to supplement the income of players who choose not to play this season, whether because of coronavirus concerns or social justice reasons."

  • In this week's SBJ, Bret McCormick goes deep on Charlotte's 15-month come-from-behind race to land a MLS franchise  The team’s name, Charlotte FC, and color scheme, a Panthers-like blue, black, white and silver, were announced last week after several delays caused by COVID-19, while renovation work on Bank of America Stadium also reportedly fell behind due to coronavirus-related interruptions. That was one factor in MLS’ decision to delay expansion plans by a year, moving Charlotte’s debut season from 2021 to 2022.  In some ways, though, having 20 additional months to build and launch the team is a blessing, especially after a faster-than-usual bidding process.

  • The Vikings revealed that head athletic trainer Eric Sugarman -- "who is also in charge of the team’s COVID-19 prevention strategy as its infection control officer -- has tested positive." Sugarman and his family are in "self-quarantine." The team "found no additional cases in the front office and that no players have been in contact with Sugarman." 

  • SI's Pat Forde reports Arizona State is "redshirting its entire swimming and diving teams for 2020-21" due to the pandemic. ASU coach Bob Bowman told his team Sunday afternoon in a Zoom call. Bowman: "The hardest part is no clarity, about anything. All our swimmers lost their NCAA (championships) last year. I'm not willing to let them lose two."

  • Golfer Christina Kim is "on her way to Toledo, Ohio, for the first event of the LPGA's restart, and as she put it, she isn't taking any chances," per Golf Channel's Nick Menta.









Lead Up Webinar
Tuesday, July 28 – 1-2pm ET

These executives will discuss how venues are preparing for live games. They will share what new design elements, ingress/egress patterns and safety procedures will be implemented when fans return to live events.

Bobby Sloan, Associate Principal, Populous
Gerardo Prado, Sports Practice Leader & Vice President, HNTB 
Justin Wood, Principal, Sports Practice Director, Dimensional Innovations

The webinar is complimentary to all SBJ/SBD subscribers, click here to register.


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