As the country works its way through the COVID-19 pandemic and the re-opening of the economy we are all looking for a return to some degree of normalcy. We look for the distractions we enjoy for some relief. We might want to take a chance by going to a restaurant. Many would love to watch a baseball game or the championship finals of the NBA and the NHL.
The restaurants have in fact become an option. Watching sports? Not yet.
My wife Sophia and I had the opportunity to see a spring training baseball game in Florida during the last week in February – the Washington Nationals versus the Houston Astros, a reprise of the World Series. We didn’t know then, of course, but that game might have been one of the last baseball games played in 2020.
It is just amazing now to watch the billionaires who own professional sports team fight with the millionaires who play the games. The coronavirus is still growing like wild fire in certain parts of the country and could come back for an encore in the fall. But those involved in the pursuit of the almighty dollar in professional sports have not figured out a way to bring back their sports without endangering players, team staffs and fans.
Major League Baseball (MLB), the NBA, the NFL and the NHL are all twisting themselves into pretzels trying to start their season (MLB), complete their seasons (NBA and NHL), or get ready to start their new season (NFL). In all cases, plus the WNBA, the leagues and teams are attempting to figure out how they can isolate their players and staff from the COVID-19, prepare for frequent testing of all involved, and if required, quarantine their personnel when they do contract the coronavirus.
MLB’s normal regular season consists of 162 games per team followed by a month of playoffs and the World Series. Since spring training facilities were shut down in March in Arizona and Florida the league has channeled through multiple options for a second spring training followed by a regular season ranging from 50 to 80 games, followed by the post-season. The discussions have included isolating all teams in Arizona or maybe playing the entire season by realigning the teams geographically for 2020 to minimize travel.
It seems a forgone conclusion that the games will be played without fans in the stands. That means a huge drop in revenues. The back-and-forth negotiations between the owners and the players’ union revolve around money – how much or how little the players would be paid; how much or how little the owners will take in. No normal unemployment insurance income for these folks!
The NBA is still working on a season resumption plan that would involve 22 of the 30 teams at Disneyworld in Florida, where they would all live and play all their remaining regular season and playoff games. The WNBA is looking to do something similar for their entire, abbreviated season. The basketball games would be played without fans.
The NHL is looking to locate 24 of their 31 teams in two cities that remain to be determined to operate in a playoff format. Things are a bit more complicated for the NHL since nearly a quarter of their teams are based in Canada and there remains a travel ban between the two countries, at least through July 21. The games would also be played without fans.
The NFL seems to think that maybe the virus will blow over by the fall, even while many scientists believe that fall will kick off a second wave of coronavirus. The league has been less specific than the other leagues about an alternative and shortened season. The powers that be in the league seem to think they can run training camps in August and go about their regular season and playoffs as scheduled. The league also is headed for an arrangement that would somehow limit, but not eliminate, the number of fans in the stands.
It should also be noted that college football and basketball 2020 seasons are also endangered by the public health and logistical nightmares of trying to arrange for training and playing games. There is a lot of money involved in college sports too.
All of the possible plans of all the leagues revolve around a simple premise: we want our money. They are prepared to overlook the possibility that an infection, or two, or ten by the personnel or game day employees might upend their season plans. You might recall that professional sports’ cascading cancellations started when one member of the Utah Jazz basketball team contracted the virus in March.
Most recently the Toronto Blue Jays and the Philadelphia Phillies suspended their restarted spring training camps in Florida when several players tested positive for COVID-19. Reportedly more than 20 members of the Clemson University football team recently tested positive.
It is not just team personnel that present a potential problem for team owners. Even in some sort of team isolation arrangement the kitchen staffs who serve food to players; the guy who drives the team bus; the staff that cleans their hotel rooms will not be isolated. Those essential workers will come and go to their homes and elsewhere, potentially exposing themselves to the virus. Did I mention that Florida, where much of the projected game playing is proposed, is having a bit of a problem with COVID-19 at the moment?
A whole lot of people including this humble blogger are anxiously awaiting the start of play for the professional leagues. But there are many, many complications that can and will intervene.
The professional sports teams should deal with the fact that they are in the same boat as your favorite restaurant, barbershop or salon that have been ravished by the economic shutdowns (except that there is a whole lot more money involved in sports). The sports teams also have to overcome the reality that a large majority of Americans won’t go anywhere near a sports facility packed with people for the foreseeable future, no matter what precautions the teams might try to promote. Just ask the million people who recently attended the Trump rally in Tulsa about such things.
When all is said and done 2020 and perhaps at least part of 2021 will be a period in our history when there were no sports to watch. Contrary to what Donald Trump thinks, Dr. Anthony Fauci has a better read on these things than does the alleged billionaire in the White House.
I wonder what wannabe Buffalo Bills owner Donald Trump would be saying about this. Okay, that’s obvious, he would be groveling for games and fans in the stands to line his pockets, like many of his team-owning pals are already doing.
Sports will return just like before. Patience is hard but it is needed at the moment. Go Bills!
My email for this post was titled “Other Stuff and Politics.” So here is a political tidbit.
There will be two judicial positions on the November ballot in Erie County – one open seat on the State Supreme Court plus the Erie County Judge position held by Kenneth Case.
Case is running without opposition. For the Supreme Court seat Democrats are expected to select City Court Judge Amy Martoche while the Republicans go with Gerald Greenan, who lost a bid for the Court last year. The party Judicial Conventions to officially select their candidates will be held between August 6th and 12th.
The Bar Association of Erie County has announced their ratings of the candidates. Case is rated “Outstanding” while Martoche is rated “Well Qualified.” Greenan is rated “Not Recommended.”
Niagara County will also elect a County Judge. There is a primary today to select the party candidates. With lots of absentee ballots to count, the results will not be known until next week at the earliest.