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MLB 2020 season plan expected this week

Major League BaseballOfficials are expected to present an MLB 2020 season plan to players this week featuring an 80-game season, expanded rosters and competition in home ballparks if owners approve on Monday, according to several sources with knowledge of the plan.

We’ve detailed the plans and the timing for such a return; the details have changed over time, but the basic schedule has not: a late June “spring” training session of 2-3 weeks followed by an early July opening, ideally on the July 4 weekend. The plan to be presented to owners still lacks much in the way of detail in things like testing schedules and procedures, but it’s designed to get discussions rolling. Here’s what we’ve been told is the current agenda:

  • An 80-game season, down from the usual 162. This will let the season play out on a fairly normal schedule in terms of travel days, and not the abundance of doubleheaders MLB officials anticipated when the plan was to play in Arizona. It will also allow the season to not bleed too much past the end of October and early November.
  • Teams will play in their home ballparks if allowed by state and local guidelines, spring-training complexes if not, but there’s not unanimity on this issue across team owners. For instance, it’s highly likely the Toronto Blue Jays will spend the beginning of a 2020 season playing out of Dunedin’s TD Ballpark. Right now Canada is operating under a Quarantine Act that mandates anyone traveling to Canada must undergo screening at the border and then undergo 14 days of isolation if they do not show symptoms, while those showing symptoms are ordered into a mandatory 14-day quarantine.
  • No lengthy travel: teams will play in their own division and the corresponding division in the other league. There had been talk about reorganizing the 30 teams into slightly different divisions, but opposition from several teams–including a strong rejection from Atlanta Braves management–killed that idea.
  • Expanded playoffs, with seven teams per league participating instead of the current five. Why? Increased revenue for broadcast rights.
  • No fans in the stands until local authorities approve sporting events. With California officials saying you won’t see mass gatherings until this fall, for instance, you may see a season where the Dodgers or Giants or Angels don’t attract a single fan.
  • Expanded rosters, which could include as many as 50 players, though there would be a distinction between an expanded roster and those active for a specific game.

The final provision is likely to be the most controversial: reduced pay for players, with season salaries based on a prorated basis. With an 80-game season, MLB wants to see players accept reduced pay because of the reduced schedule. To date the players have argued that an agreement reached in March already covers any potential pay cuts, with the union not wanting to see any further reductions. The owners, meanwhile, will argue that March agreement applied only to games generating revenue with gate receipts and concessions; without fans, owners are expecting lower revenues. Some sort of revenue-sharing plan may be proposed by the owners.

As noted, there are still many details to be filled in. Also needing to be addressed: testing protocols and frequency, with the players association wanting to see as many tests administered as possible and some sort of procedure to address what happens should a player or staffer test positive for the COVID-19 virus.

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 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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