MLB will reportedly allow fans at games once mayors (not health officials) say it’s okay

Last Thursday I reported on Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s announcement that outdoor sports stadiums could be open to fans at 50% capacity this summer despite Covid cases continuing to be on the rise in his state. (And they really are — for anyone who thinks it’s just a matter of more testing being done, go here and select Texas and “Daily Test Positivity” and see graph tick alarmingly upwards in recent days.) I also reported that sports leagues were showing no interest in taking Abbott up on his offer, but that was before MLB reportedly decided that what’s good enough for any random elected official is good enough for them:

According to two major league sources Thursday, MLB is inclined to allow local and municipal governance to take precedence when it comes to allowing fan attendance at games.

Okay, based on unnamed sources, so the usual grains of salt apply. At the very least, though, this does appear to be a trial balloon to see if taking advantage of local reopenings to let in fans — and all their delicious spending money that MLB would otherwise have to do without — is something MLB can get away with without massive uproar. (Though it’ll be kind of hard to tell right now with so much uproar focused elsewhere.) And it’s potentially of huge concern, because you know that if the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros are allowed to start selling tickets, MLB team owners in other locales will begin angling to do so as well, and it will be hard for local elected officials to resist cries of “All the other kids are doing it, you’re putting us at a disadvantage!”, or at least easy for elected officials to use that an excuse to lift restrictions they wish those old fuddy-duddy health officials hadn’t made them put in place to begin with.

But speaking of health officials, maybe “local and municipal governance” doesn’t mean just asking the local mayor, but rather consulting with local officials in charge of pandemic response to see what’s safe to do when? That would make sense — even if health officials aren’t always immune to rose-colored thinking either — but it’s a bad sign that MLB apparently didn’t consult local health officials on its reopening safety plan even after it said it would:

When the Daily News asked the NYC Department of Health — which serves a constituency that has Yankee Stadium, Citi Field, and one out of every six of the United States’ confirmed COVID-19 deaths — about its collaboration with MLB, an emailed response said it all:

“Has there been any formal proposal presented?”…

On June 2, MLB told the News that “each of our Clubs already has contacted their local or county officials where appropriate or will do so shortly after a second draft of the protocols is completed,” further clarifying that their safety protocols were delivered to individuals designated by the governor in every state with a baseball team.

Yet, of the 28 city and county health departments that the News contacted prior to June 2, only five confirmed any interaction with MLB or the local team in their jurisdiction regarding health and safety measures, and only four reported they received MLB’s health and safety protocol from the league or club.

(H/t to Marc Normandin’s invaluable newsletter for this nugget.)

Now, it’s still entirely possible that there won’t be an MLB season because owners and players can’t agree on money or safety protocols, or that a second wave of infections will overtake the U.S., or large enough parts of it, before a season can get underway. (I keep seeing reporting that MLB wants its postseason over by November to avoid any second wave of lockdowns, but there’s no actual reason to think it won’t hit sooner, especially since in many states it seems like the first wave never actually ended.) But if baseball does return, and it’s left up to local politics to determine what the rules are, that’s going to create huge economic incentives for team owners and elected officials alike to turn a blind eye to the risks involved — like taking off your mask to make a phone call, the benefits all go to you while the risks are spread around, so it’s tempting to say hell with it, and what’s that you say about the tragedy of the commons?

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13 comments on “MLB will reportedly allow fans at games once mayors (not health officials) say it’s okay

  1. My guess is if they restart they’ll finish the season lockdown or no. The mistake in the owners minds was shutting down at all, so that’s not going to happen again.

    1. If the stadiums are padlocked that’ll be difficult. I guess they could try to play in a state without a lockdown or Australia or something, but would players even be allowed to travel under those circumstances?

      1. I’m assuming they’ll just do the Elon Musk move and stay open regardless of what the city says forcing the city to either sue them or force a fight. Added to that a lot of the cities will just roll over anyway I doubt padlocks are much of a threat.

  2. jmauro,

    I wonder what that MLB civil disobedience to finish the season will look like.

    Will the MLB owners be saying: “Yeah, we know people are dying, but ‘Damn the COVID torpedoes and the Lockdown and full steam ahead’

  3. And today we get this news :

    So have we locked down healthy people for nothing. I say be like the casinos and temperature check the spectators at the gate, send the feverish home, and give the hypochondriac cynics the option to cower in place at home in front of their big screen TV’s. Lets open up sports, now.

    1. Yeah, not so much. The news reports are apparently confusing asymptomatic and presymptomatic:

      1. Whew, that’s a relief. Here I was thinking we have buried 400,000 people who not only weren’t dead, they weren’t even sick.

  4. And in other arena news.

    Arizona Coyotes will have new arena deal by end of the year? Dream on.

  5. Has anyone heard or read any discussion of liability issues and considerations for the team or facility owners should spectators get seriously ill or die as a result of contracting this virus while not isolating at a ball game?

    It may seem clear that fans choosing to attend are responsible for their own health/decisions, but keep in mind we live in a society where concept cars have to be crushed rather than sold because product liability laws make even the most iron clad manufacturer’s waiver essentially worthless.

    It seems unlikely to me that team/league/stadium insurers will agree to cover fans allowed in under present or similar conditions.

    1. The closest parallel I can think of is cigarette smoking, where it proved nearly impossible for anyone to prove exactly what mix of events gave them lung cancer. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some lawsuits, but if teams/leagues can say “Hey, we were doing what the local authorities said we could,” I’d be surprised if they were successful. #IANAL

  6. The one way the Coyotes can get something done is if there is an infrastructure bill coming out of Washington. Both sides want to do something. The only questions are what it consists of and the cost?

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