Here’s when and how sports leagues are pretending they will start up again

What to do, what to do if you’re a sports team owner in the midst of a pandemic that is preventing there from being any sports? Sure, you could cut all your employees’ salaries and then when that isn’t popular get Bloomberg News to write an article about how great you are for donating leftover hand soap to hospitals, but to really kill a lot of time, you’re going to want to get together on Zoom with your fellow owners and do what every eight-year-old does during any sports offseason: Draw up imaginary plans of what sports might look like when it returns. And right now, team owners have imagination to burn:

If there’s a commonality here, it’s that all of the above — okay, save the XFL thing — is about plans, not decisions. Which is fine: Right now not even infectious disease experts know whether we could have a somewhat normal summer if social distancing is successful or if large gatherings for sports and concerts won’t return until fall 2021 at the earliest, and we won’t until we see the results of nations starting to ease restrictions, which could take three months or so to know for sure. But none of this is actual news about when sports will return; it’s just spitballing, albeit spitballing by a bunch of rich people with PR staffs and an entire industry of journalists following them around to report on every rumor that passes their lips.

If you want real news, and real sports, you’ll have to turn to South Korea, where the Korean Baseball Organization is tentatively set to start its season in early May. And ESPN wants to broadcast it, because ESPN sure has nothing else to show you right now. One hopes it will include a ticker across the bottom of the screen showing daily new coronavirus infections and hospitalizations in South Korea, because unless you’re really invested in Dan Straily’s comeback attempt, those are going to be the most important sports stats you’re likely to see for a while.

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9 comments on “Here’s when and how sports leagues are pretending they will start up again

  1. It’s interesting. There actually is one huge sports story right now and the sports press are all avoiding it Coronavirus. Several athletes have tested positive. Instead they’d rather write about a second string running back’s 100 yard game in week 3 of last year or show videos of quarantining NBA players dunking on their toddlers on toy hoops. I understand they’re in a business and under presser to meet consumer demand but is it journalism to ignore a 1000 lb. elephant in the room?

  2. I have still been following the developments in the Bundesliga restart.
    –The teams are practicing.
    –They have a restart plan where everyone is tested every 3 days. Games can be played with teams and around 190 people for officiating, staffing, and broadcasting.
    –Some media sources are really playing up the planning and testing part of this plan. Both NY Times and ESPN website have written about it.
    –The teams in the top two leagues were nearly unanimous in their approval of plan. The 3.BL had a bare majority in favor with quite a few teams arguing that is a bad idea. The 3.BL would also likely start a week or two after the 1.BL and 2.BL. I bring up lower leagues as this is likely where big dollars are not as big a factor but one 3.BL official mentioned 80% of their revenue comes from TV (I think this was for a club with low attendance though).
    –Players have been quoted about being happy to be back but I did not notice a few express reservations about whether anything would actually happen. One said he thinks games will happen but later than current early May plans.
    –All players have had a 20% cut. When they were not practicing the lower league players all got government based minimums for their state.
    –Practices appear to be with groups of 3-4 shooting or passing at a distance. In case you were wondering they are showering onsite but only 3 players per locker room at a time.
    –Governments have approved of practice but have not approved of any games yet.
    –I mentioned a few citizens filing suit against the teams-I have no idea if those are considered very serious or a factor at all.
    –Coronavirus (19) has not publicly commented.

    1. Thanks, FS. My big question, which doesn’t seem to have been answered by Bundesliga so far: What happens if a player or staffer tests positive? Do they get immediately quarantined for 14 days? Does anyone else who’s been in contact with them get quarantined as well, which could mean entire teams? Some games could still be better than nothing, but seems like at best they could be looking at a really janky and subject-to-change restart schedule here.

    2. The government had a big meeting today, and even playing “ghost games” didn’t make the cut for coming back.

      German teams, even more than other teams, are financially precarious–they live by selling players on, so if they aren’t playing and they aren’t selling, its big problems. Several big name teams could fold by summer.

  3. One of the more ridiculous things I heard came yesterday when the gov of Florida declared that the wwe was essential so they could start back up.

    Oh the irony of it all – given the xfl filed for bankruptcy on the same day! I guess you could say this is amusing, so thanks for the laugh Vince McMahon.


    1. My guess WWE is in major problems because if it’s not putting on shows it’s screwed. It just used it’s political connections to get back going.

      It also helps that the MLB is currently considering the Florida variant to the Arizona plan and this gives them clearance to go if they decide for it.

  4. What we are talking about is a heavily modified version of the sports being considered for restart/resurrection.

    Since the games will be significantly modified, there is no reason to believe that broadcasters, most staffers or even match officials need to be “on the field” themselves.

    Baseball has talked about ‘robot’ umpires (a better solution might be video linked umpires… easily done with today’s technology), soccer can be ref’d either by a single ref (with PPE) and chipped ball/VR technology for touch and goal line calls or by VAR alone. Nobody likes VAR, but it is possible and arguably less intrusive than having no fans/staff/trainers/endless sideline hangers on in the building. How much worse could the replay systems get if all game officials were watching video feeds out of a secure (perhaps even isolated/sole occupied) tv truck or video room?

    Ditto coaches and staff in other sports. You can give them simple masks. You can give them scba or put them in a corporate suite and have them talk to their players via radio. So long as the conditions are the same for both teams, there is no advantage available. And if you are on a tested and properly filtered supplied air breathing system (whether in a helmet or a stadium suite), you are going to be safe from infection for the duration of the event. Guaranteed.

    What many who work in offices tend to ignore is that there are large sections of the economy where employees regularly (or constantly) have to work in areas where hazardous gases, dusts, fibres or other contaminants may be or are present. Working in a helmet with supplied air is nothing new for many workers. It used to be a weekly (if not daily) routine for me.

    The players are unquestionably going to be in contact, of course, and cannot wear proper protective equipment. There is legitimate risk there. That’s why it will be up to them to decide whether they want to take that risk to gain their full contracted income.

    As for the tv crews, cameras can be remote operated (seen a TV news studio lately? There’s no-one there except for the anchor and 3 or 4 remote operating HD cameras). And we know from years of watching ESPN in their cheapskate broadcast days that the announcers need not be at the European sporting event they are allegedly “covering”. They can make their pointless and off topic comments from a studio in Bristol.

    Throwback broadcasting!

  5. I cannot see the MLB Players Association agreeing to have no baseball one year, then no fans the next. I also wonder if some of some of the weaker teams ( especially in the NHL) just decide it is not worth returning and declare bankruptcy?

  6. Here is a good article from SI on this topic:


    Bursting the Bubble: Why Sports Aren’t Coming Back Soon

    The NBA, NFL and MLB are dreaming up ways to play amid a pandemic, with talk of isolating players in Arizona or Las Vegas or maybe on the moon. It all sounds great, until you talk to people who actually know science.

    It’s both depressing and mindboggling as to what it will take, how long it will be and how much will be lost.

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