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Will we see MLB 2020 season launch in empty ballparks?

Salt River Fields

There is a growing feeling within the industry that MLB games could begin earlier than expected if teams were willing to play in empty neutral-site ballparks, as teams seek to generate money through broadcasts and not gate revenue.

While most players are probably not thrilled with the prospect of playing sans fans, it may be an essential path to the 2020 MLB season launching in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. MLB and NBA are the two sports that make enough money from broadcast rights to warrant playing in controlled circumstances, and not surprisingly the idea of playing sans fans is also on the NBA’s agenda as well. Everyone has a stake in launching the MLB 2020 season ASAP, and once you accept the idea that the season can start without fans, the more the notion of playing at neutral sites for broadcasting makes sense as well. You don’t need to open an MLB ballpark to broadcast a game in these circumstances–so look for talk about holding these games in spring-training facilities rise, especially if we see an MLB training camp of sorts before the season. More from the New York Post:

And it is just logical at this point, as one team executive said, “By a matter of weeks, we will be able to play games without crowds [before we can play games] with them.” Another official said, “I think the only way we play, at least initially, is without fans.”

For now, MLB has suspended operations until at least mid-May owing to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention edicts to avoid mass gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic. The agreement states that games will not resume until there are no federal, city or local restrictions on mass gatherings and until the commissioner determines, via consultation with medical experts, that no “unreasonable health and safety risk to players, staff, or spectators” persists. However, it also empowers the commissioner to discuss in good faith playing in neutral sites and without fans.

This route, however, assumes that there’s no MiLB season launching in conjunction with the MLB season. While MLB teams will generate revenue with game broadcasts, that’s certainly not true on the minor-league level. With no revenue, there’s no incentive for MiLB teams to operate ballparks and hold games, so the likeliest outcome is for MiLB to launch until restrictions on mass gatherings are lifted by cities, counties and states.

Keep in mind there are lot of folks in pro baseball throwing out a lot of ideas at the moment. The sport is operating without a game plan and no map to the resumption of the 2020 season. What is a good idea today may be deemed as a bad one in a few days when more data is available.

With hourly news about the spread of the coronavirus impacting the sports-business and facilities industries, it’s more important than ever to stay up with the latest news in the venues industry. That’s why we’re launching a new Venues Digest newsletter focusing on coronavirus information across the ballparks, arenas, stadiums, theater and performing-arts worlds. For now it will appear daily, and for now it will be free of charge. Sign up here.

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