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Volume 26 No. 225
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SBJ Unpacks: MLB Seeks Source Of Contagion

The 22 NBA teams at Disney are off today as the league gets set for its restart tomorrow night in a bubble environment that is proving effective. The league and the players union reported this afternoon that zero of the 344 players at Disney tested positive for the virus.

Those results could give MLB and the NFL second thoughts about playing without some type of bubble protection. Doubts are increasing about baseball being able to play its full 60-game regular season due to the Marlins' virus outbreak, while the number of NFL players opting out of the coming season is likely to grow. 

-- John Lombardo

   

QUESTIONS SURROUND MLB'S HANDLING OF MARLINS OUTBREAK

  • As MLB investigates the source of contagion that led to at least 18 members of the Marlins testing positive in recent days, leading epidemiologist Dr. Zach Binney of Oxford College at Emory University told SBJ's Eric Prisbell that the most alarming scenario is if all Marlins' players and staff did in fact follow proper protocols.

  • If MLB and the Marlins can't find an obvious reason why the virus transmitted through the traveling party, Binney said, then perhaps "we have too much virus here in the U.S. for a plan like Major League Baseball's to withstand the sheer assault that they are going to get from just interacting with the community and the virus' ability to infiltrate the league." Binney: "It would suggest that Major League Baseball's protocols are insufficient in some way or another. You would like to identify something that happened."

  • While MLB's operations manual is very specific about testing protocols and player behavior, it lacks specificity about how to handle an outbreak. Binney said he understands a league's resistance to draw a "specific red line" ahead of time about what circumstances would warrant suspending play of a team of league. But he added that it was concerning to see MLB "struggle for a couple days" as it grappled on the fly with the ramifications of the issue, saying that in retrospect it was an "enormous, reckless mistake" for the Marlins to play against the Phillies on Sunday after a handful of the Marlins tested positive.

  • As recently as last week, several executives told SBJ that they were cautiously optimistic that smaller gatherings of fans would be permitted to attend baseball games in some markets at some point during this 60-game season. The only responsible choice, Binney said, is "no fans, not unless our situation ends up improving to the point of Taiwan or New Zealand." Binney: "There is just too much virus. When we are struggling to open schools, why are we talking about fans in the stands of sporting events?"

  • For more from Dr. Binney, check out the latest episode of the SBJ Unpacks podcast.

 

 

ACC GOES WITH MODIFIED FOOTBALL SCHEDULE

  • After meeting today, the ACC announced its "intent to play football this fall, with a modified schedule that includes 10 conference games and one out-of-conference," per the Richmond Times-Dispatch. ACC Commissioner John Swofford in a statement said the decision "presents a path, if public health guidance allows, to move forward with competition." He added that member institutions are "committed to taking the necessary measures to facilitate the return in a safe and responsible manner."

  • The season’s first games will take place the week of Sept. 7-12. All non-conference game opponents, "selected by the respective school, must be played in the home state of the ACC institution, and all non-conference opponents must meet the medical protocol requirements as agreed upon by the ACC." 

  • Notre Dame will also play a 10-game conference schedule and be eligible to compete in the conference championship game. All television revenue for the 2020 season, including Notre Dame’s home games broadcast by NBC, "will be shared equally by all 15 institutions." 

  • SBJ's Austin Karp notes an appearance by Notre Dame in the conference championship "would obviously be a TV boon for the game, which was the least-viewed of Power 5 title games in 2019." The ACC title game has "drawn over 10 million viewers only once since starting in 2005." Meanwhile, the SEC Championship has drawn over 10 million viewers every year since 2007.

 

USGA MAKES IT OFFICIAL: NO FANS AT U.S. OPEN

  • It comes as no surprise, but the USGA made it official today in announcing that the U.S. Open -- set for Sept. 14-20 at Winged Foot in N.Y. -- will be played with no fans in attendance, writes SBJ's John Lombardo.

  • Fans who bought tickets will be given full refunds. The move comes after the USGA on March 1 announced a major rebranding campaign called “From Many, One to increase fan engagement around its signature event. The campaign was centered around celebrating the nearly 10,000 golfers who attempt to qualify for the major in a typical year. All qualifiers have since been canceled due to the pandemic. The decision to hold the event with no spectators or hospitality also will hurt the USGA’s bottom line given that the U.S. Open accounts for 75% of its revenue. 

  • No doubt that USGA officials and executives at NBC, which this year takes over broadcast rights from Fox, will be paying close attention to next week’s PGA Championship in San Francisco that also will be played with no fans on-site. 

  • USGA Chief Brand Officer Craig Annis acknowledged that while the organization "can’t replicate the on-site experience," it will do its best to "bring the championship to life" for fans through its partnership with NBCUniversal and other digital platforms. 

 

NBA EXTENDS COMMUNITY TESTING PROGRAM IN ORLANDO

  • One day ahead of the league's restart, the NBA announced it will continue to help provide free COVID-19 testing in the Orlando area through the end of August. 

  • The league in a statement said it "collaborated with UnidosUS and the National Urban League as well as several private laboratories to identify communities most in need and provide access to no-cost testing programs in addition to communicating public health information to community members."

  • The NBA is also working with The Fight Is In Us, a nationwide coalition of health officials and other partners, to encourage COVID-19 survivors to donate plasma for virus research and treatments and to share the latest health and safety information and resources regarding the pandemic.


LAKERS TOP NBA FACEBOOK VIDEO VIEWS DURING SHUTDOWN

  • The Rockets and Warriors posted an average of nearly four videos per day on their respective Facebook pages since the NBA season shut down on March 12, leading all teams, according to data from Tubular Labs analyzed by SBJ's David Broughton. The T'Wolves, on the other hand, posted an average of every eight days, the fewest of the clubs.

  • When it came to actual video views, the Lakers (185 million) topped the list, while the T'Wolves and Hornets were the only clubs to draw less than 2 million video views. Additionally, the Warriors (110 million) and Bulls (52.6 million) were each left out of the league’s restart, but ranked No. 2 and No. 4, respectively, among most video-viewers.

 

NBA TEAMS ON FACEBOOK DURING SHUTDOWN (MARCH 12-JULY 28)
TEAM
UPLOADS
VIDEO VIEWS
TEAM
UPLOADS
VIDEO VIEWS
Lakers
359
185 million
Pelicans
268
9.1 million
Warriors
536
110 million
Kings
149
7.6 million
Spurs
303
80 million
Raptors
226
7.3 million
Bulls
168
52.6 million
Heat
108
6.8 million
Bucks
240
47.7 million
Cavaliers
174
6.2 million
Mavericks
377
25.8 million
Nets
143
6.2 million
Rockets
538
23.2 million
Jazz
261
5.6 million
Clippers
195
22.3 million
Pistons
192
4.2 million
Grizzlies
214
15.4 million
76ers
156
4.1 million
Trail Blazers
291
14.9 million
Pacers
205
3.5 million
Nuggets
428
14.3 million
Wizards
367
2.9 million
Celtics
427
13.9 million
Suns
228
2.7 million
Knicks
383
12.3 million
Hawks
312
2.3 million
Thunder
254
10.1 million
Hornets
246
1.3 million
Magic
393
9.2 million
T'Wolves
65
1.1 million
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nba

  

WORLD SURF LEAGUE CEO BULLISH ON SAFE RETURN

  • The World Surf League will make its return for a one-day event on Aug. 9, reports SBJ’s Chris Smith. The spectator-less Michelob Ultra Pure Gold Rumble at the Ranch will feature a tournament bracket of eight mixed-doubles teams, including Kelly Slater, Carissa Moore, Caroline Marks and Kolohe Andino. Prize money will be awarded to the charity of the winning team’s choice. 

  • The event is the first stop on the WSL Countdown, a new series of regional exhibition events modeled loosely on the bubble concept being used in other pro leagues. “We actually believe we’re one of the safest sports,” said WSL CEO Erik Logan. “If we can get (surfers) tested and into a location, we think it’s fairly safe to run.” Athletes and staffers will be tested before being quarantined in a local hotel, from which they’ll be directly transported to the event area. On-site safety protocols include mandatory masks and distancing. 

  • Next month’s contest will take place at WSL’s Surf Ranch, an artificial wave pool in Lemoore, Calif. Logan says the venue not only offers plenty of space, but that the environmental control allowed WSL to work with broadcast partner Fox to nail down exact timing of the event to best fit in Fox’ broadcast plans. “You can’t do that if you’re surfing at an ocean location because we have to wait for the waves,” said Logan. “With the Surf Ranch, we just hit a button.”   

 

NFL TEAMS READY TO PLAY OFFENSE AGAINST PANDEMIC

  • One day after Giants President & CEO John Mara said he believes the NFL is "positioned to manage" positive coronavirus tests, more team leaders began to express confidence in a 2020 season. Broncos President Joe Ellis told the Colorado Springs Gazette, "We're not in a bubble, but we're going to have to behave and act like we are." Broncos President of Football Operations & GM John Elway: "We can't sit here and bitch about it. We've got to realize it's part of it, and we've got to deal with it and stay with our nose to the grindstone."

  • Raiders Owner Mark Davis spoke on how his late father Al Davis would have viewed the current situation. "The virus would be something that would concern him. He felt he could dominate anything except maybe life and death. I do know he would have been calling every doctor in the country and person trying to come up with an answer for it, that's for sure."

  • Meanwhile, the Texans and Lions both unveiled facility changes to minimize the pandemic threat. The Texans' NRG Stadium now has "facial recognition systems to automatically open doors without touching them, hand sanitizer at every table, socially distanced chairs for team meetings inside their practice bubble and limited seating in the team auditorium," per the Houston Chronicle. The Lions have installed glass barriers in between each locker at the team’s Allen Park training facility, among other pandemic-related innovations. 

 

The Lions today unveiled new barriers in the locker room to adhere to safety protocols
The Lions today unveiled new barriers in the locker room to adhere to safety protocols
The Lions today unveiled new barriers in the locker room to adhere to safety protocols

 

OUTSIDE CONTRIBUTORS: CHARITABLE GIVING

  • Tonight's op-ed contribution is from Harrie Bakst, a founding partner of WCPG, a N.Y.-based agency focusing on cause and social impact. He writes under the header, "How Can We Replace Over $300 Million For Charity?"
  • "Often overlooked by the loss of revenue teams and leagues are incurring, charitable organizations are missing out on fundraising dollars that are tied to these events to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. Additionally, despite the major professional leagues getting the overwhelming majority of the media’s attention, most of these lost donations come from mass-participatory sporting events such as runs, walks and rides. ... And with the potential for no vaccine ready until summer of 2021, and a growing fear of a second surge of cases in the fall, events that are planned in the first and second quarters of 2021 such as Cycle for Survival and the Boston Marathon (April) present more questions than answers at this point."
  • To read the full contribution, click here.

 

 

SPEED READS

  • NBC Sports Boston's Tom Curran delved into the fallout of three longtime Patriots starters opting out of the 2020 NFL season on Peter King's latest podcast. Curran said of Patrick Chung, Dont'a Hightower and Marcus Cannon, "Each of these guys, when we ask what’s the common denominator, they’re over 30 years old. They’ve all made more than $30-45 million plus in their careers. They all have three Super Bowl rings. What do they have left to conquer? … You come to a point where you’re like, ‘I’ve won Super Bowls. I’ve made money. I’m in my thirties. Do I want to deal with this in 2020 to have a rebuilding season and go 7-9? 8-8?’ … That to me is what we’re looking at."

  • Virginia Tech CB Caleb Farley, a projected first-round pick in next year's NFL Draft, is the latest college player to "opt out of the coming season," a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter.

  • Turner Sports has "sold out of commercial time" for the remainder of the NBA season, which restarts tomorrow in Orlando, according to Ad Age's Jeanine Poggi. Turner Sports CRO Jon Diament said that while the playoffs, which begin Aug. 17, are not yet sold out, "most regular season advertisers do end up buying commercial time in the playoffs, so he is confident that will also move quickly." Diament said that nearly 100% of the advertisers who had previously made commitments for NBA inventory before COVID-19 shut down the season "kept their money in place." SBJ's John Ourand earlier today gave his insights on what this quick sale really means for Turner and other sports networks.

  • The National Women’s Hockey League will begin its sixth season in January 2021, writes SBJ’s Mark J. Burns, after this most recent year’s Isobel Cup Final had to be canceled due to COVID-19. Each team is slated to play 20 regular season games next season before a champion is crowned sometime before the end of March. The six-team league, which now counts Toronto Six as an expansion club, said it’s aiming to hold its All-Star Game after the playoffs conclude.

  • Citing “unprecedented times," Nike confirmed that it will close its facility in Goodyear, Ariz., which was "supposed to create more than 500 jobs," per the Phoenix Business Journal. The Goodyear plant was "supposed to begin operations this year, but a Goodyear spokesperson confirmed the company had not moved in, with tenant improvements still underway."

  • As lockdown measures continue to be implemented worldwide, revised predictions to the global esports economy in 2020 are forecasted to increase only 1.7% from 2019, according to data from Newzoo analyzed by SportsAtlas’ Michael Cupello. The projected 2020 bottom line becomes more and more negatively impacted as esports events continue to be postponed and cancelled, and many leagues and tournaments are switching to an online format. See more in today's SBJ Esports newsletter.

 

 

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SBJ UNPACKS -- THE ROAD AHEAD

 

 

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.