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Manfred: We can’t play 2021 season without fans

Major League BaseballWhile Major League Baseball didn’t have many choices in launching a 2020 season in the midst of a pandemic, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred says playing in empty ballparks isn’t a viable option for the 2021 season: gameday revenues are essential.

According to Manfred, MLB teams lost a collective $3 billion this season playing a truncated season with no fans at home ballparks. If the same operating model was to be applied in 2021, the losses would multiple and essentially be unsustainable. So the challenge in 2021 will be to allow as many fans into the ballpark while presenting a safe environment for players, front-office staff and fans alike. That may mean limited capacities, and it will likely mean plenty of COVID-19 mitigation. We have already seen how one team is approaching COVID-19 during spring training, and it would be surprising if this model isn’t scaled up for the MLB season. There may also be some creative spacing of fans, as teams take advantage of existing layouts and potential watching areas outside the ballpark. From the Wall Street Journal:

So while conquering 2020 is an achievement, repeating it with a full schedule in 2021 will be just as challenging. The thought of teams opening their ballparks to 40,000 fans as early as April seems aspirational at best, raising questions about the financial landscape moving forward.

Manfred described the idea of playing 162 games next year without fans as “economically devastating,” adding that the losses “would be a multiple” of the $3 billion from this season. So the moment the World Series ends late next month, baseball’s primary mission is to figure out what 2021 might look like, no matter the circumstances.

“If we’re going to play next year, and if we don’t have a vaccine and we aren’t past the pandemic, I think we need to think hard about what measures we can take to get people back into the ballpark,” Manfred said.

At the MLB level, roughly 40 percent of team revenues derive from gameday receipts.

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