An extended stretch of MLB games without fans would be awkward. But less than not having games at all in 2020.
ESPN‘s Jeff Passan noted last week, that as part of the deal the MLB and MLBPA reached, both sides acknowledged that their goal was to begin the season when fans would be able to attend games. However, Passan also added that the two sides would further research the possibility of playing in front of empty stadiums as a solution to at least start the season.
While Jon Heyman of RADIO.COM estimated last week that a third of baseball’s annual revenue comes from fans attending games (and paying for concessions once they are there), that still leaves two-thirds of baseball’s annual revenue on the table. Apparently, MLB would prefer to lose at least some of the third that comes from attendance than virtually all of their annual revenue by cancelling the season.
Joel Sherman of The New York Post spoke to two team executives that suggested that that baseball’s most likely path forward to beginning the season as soon as possible involves playing games without fans to begin the year.
After the Freddie Gray protests in Baltimore, the Baltimore Orioles hosted the Chicago White Sox at Camden Yards on April 29, 2015 without any fans in attendance. That, of course, was just for one game. There was a novelty to it, even if the circumstances that forced it were extremely serious. A few weeks or more of games without fans would be unprecedented, and frankly, diminish the product to some degree. The sound of fans in the background of a broadcast is part of the summer. It would be an entirely different dynamic with announcers calling a game with no fans attending. Right now, though, there are bad options and worse options because of COVID-19.
Sherman added in his piece that baseball will need to figure out what form their minor league season will take on as well. Not only does MLB want to limit the spread of Coronavirus, but MLB rosters are expected to be larger than normal to open the season, which would leave less players to compete in the upper levels of the minor leagues. However, other considerations should be taken into account, such as the positive effect that minor league baseball has on the economy of local communities in a normal year.
The reality here, though, is this is truly unprecedented territory, and even in the best-case scenario, all parties will likely hurt a bit when compared to a normal season.
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