Before COVID-19, only two days a year had no scheduled professional sports activity—the day before and the day after the Major League Baseball All-Star Game in July. Now, sports fans might have to wait a year before they can see another Stanley Cup or NBA playoffs or a rematch between the Houston Astros and the Los Angeles Dodgers, who are out for revenge after learning in the off-season that the Astros’ 2017 World Series title is tainted by a cheating scandal.
As some states begin to cautiously reopen businesses, sports leagues are exploring how they can recoup some of the time and money lost to the pandemic. President Donald Trump sounded optimistic during two April teleconferences with league commissioners and team owners, as well as a news conference promoting the return of sporting events. But while the higher-ups in sports say they’re looking for innovative solutions, few are offering specifics.
Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred has provided the most detail on what a delayed opening day could look like. He said MLB is exploring a plan to move all 30 teams to the Phoenix area to play on Arizona spring training fields, the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Chase Field, and possibly college facilities. Other proposals include sending teams to Phoenix; St. Petersburg, Fla.; and Austin, Texas. The games would have no fans in the stands, and officials would tightly control field and lodging conditions for players, team personnel, media, and technicians. Health workers would test everyone regularly for the coronavirus.
Still, Manfred knows he needs state and local government approval and is proceeding slowly. “We have tried to be cautious about trying to go too soon, based on what the public health situation is,” he told The Boston Globe.
Andrew Miller, a relief pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals and an executive committee member of the Major League Baseball Players Association, said that while MLB officials have floated some ideas, “nothing is even close to being put in place.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has suggested games could potentially move forward with weekly tests and rigorous surveillance. A fan of the 2019 World Series champion Washington Nationals himself, he said he’s eager for baseball’s return.
Games in empty stadiums wouldn’t solve all the problems of lost jobs and revenue. And not all players are on board. Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw has concerns about separating players from their families to relocate teams. “I don’t think that’s doable if you’re talking about doing that for four or five months,” he told the Los Angeles Times.
Pro basketball and hockey executives have fewer ideas for salvaging their seasons.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver recently considered trying to revive part of the league’s season, which normally extends into June, by restarting this summer with shortened playoff rounds and the finals in Las Vegas. The NBA could lose more a $1 billion this year, not including losses in related industries like hotels and restaurants. The league may open practice facilities on May 8 for individual player workouts in states like Georgia that have loosened restrictions.
Likewise, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman sees no easy way to resume the hockey season, which halted last month with 85 percent of the regular season schedule complete. Normally, the Stanley Cup playoffs begin in April. Bettman sees playing this summer as one possibility and hopes to make a decision this week. “We want to be ready to go as soon as we get a green light,” he said. “Nothing’s been ruled in. Nothing’s been ruled out.”