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2020 MLB season plans still in flux

Globe Life Field February 2020

With the NBA announcing training camps would open in states where stay-at-home orders are being loosened, the tentative intention to begin the 2020 MLB season with play in empty ballparks may have gained a little more steam.

The NBA is planning to open team training facilities on Friday in states where stay-at-home orders are now less restrictive. Teams won’t be able to organize practices, and social distancing rules will still be place, per our report at Arena Digest. But we do have some players informally working out already at MLB facilities; the Texas Rangers report some players are working out in small groups at Globe Life Field.

We’d expect that same lessening of stay-at-home orders to pump some life into any resumption of the 2020 season. There are still a number of scenarios out there, with nothing close to a firm decision on the horizon. In recent weeks we’ve seen an Arizona plan thrown out there, with all 30 teams sequestered in Phoenix-area hotels and playing games at the 10 Cactus League facilities, Chase Field and potentially two area college ballparks. Also popping up as a potential plan called for play at team spring-training in both Arizona and Florida, including Marlins Park and Tropicana Field. A third scenario recently emerged: the addition of Texas Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston ballparks to the Florida and Arizona plan, with Jeff Passan raising the possibility of a limited two-month campaign run more as a tournament than as a regular season.

Don’t expect any decision soon: despite all the chatter, we probably won’t see any decision about a truncated 2020 MLB season until the end of May (not so coincidentally, MLB teams are keeping staff on payroll through the end of May), with play taking place in August or September. That causes some other problems: we are looking at an incredibly intense traffic jam on the sporting front if spring competition resumes and the normal fall sports slate begins. That scenario is addressed by Mike Nantz in this preview of Real Sports with Bryan Gumbel (the full episode will be broadcast April 28 at 10 p.m. Eastern):

And, of course, there will be another big issue facing any resumption of competition: players buying into the deal. Several high-profile players have spoken out against play in empty ballparks with teams in virtual quarantine, which could mean staying away from home and families for long periods of time. But the big issue will be how to structure the game’s finances: MLB is basically operating with no revenue. An earlier agreement between the players association and MLB called for season salaries to be in place this season, prorated to the number of games actually played. It’s been reported that MLB wants to see further reductions on the player salary front, something the players association and player agents reject.

Should the 2020 MLB season take place? Probably not. Will it? A lot of important folks in the sport are pushing for it. So don’t be surprised if the 2020 MLB season take place in some truncated form—no matter how weird the experience will be for both players and fans.

With daily 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 launched 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 to industry professionals. Sign up here.

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