MLB’s plan for fans at World Series should work fine if viruses agree to take a break while you’re eating

Once the MLB playoffs get past this current war of all against all stage, they will retreat to two sets of “bubbles,” with the National League headed to the Texas Rangers and Houston Astros home parks, while the American League will be hosted at the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres stadiums. And since Texas is a state that allows fans to attend outdoor sporting events at 50% capacity, MLB announced yesterday that it will be selling tickets to the N.L. Championship Series and World Series at Globe Life Field in Arlington. About 11,500 tickets will be made available per game, which is about 28% of the stadium’s 40,518-seat capacity.

The reason for doing this is obvious: LCS seats are slated to go for between $40 and $250 and World Series tickets between $75 and $450, so if both series go seven games MLB can expect to rake in from $20 million to $40 million just from ticket sales, not even counting concessions and souvenirs and all the other crap well-heeled baseball fans will plunk down money on after a summer of having nothing baseball-related to buy other than cardboard cutouts of themselves. But MLB is concerned about your safety too, so they will be imposing Covid protocols for those who wish to attend games:

  • Tickets will be sold in “pods” of four, with each pod separated from its neighbors by at least six feet. No seats will be sold within 20 feet of the field.
  • Masks will be mandatory “except when actively eating or drinking at their ticketed seats.”
  • Food sales will be pre-packaged and “contactless,” with no filthy money changing hands.
  • No bags will be permitted except for diaper bags or those required for medical reasons.

On the surface, this nods to all the science of preventing coronavirus spread — distancing, masks — but there are some worrisome loopholes. First off, while the pods will be sacrosanct, with no breaking them up to sell them to other fans, there’s no way to ensure that people seated in the same pod are members of the same household. That means — unless ticket buyers have to provide names of everyone in their party at purchase and IDs will be checked on entry, like for airplane flights, which seems like it would involve a lot of contact and non-distancey lines — there’s nothing stopping someone from buying four tickets and then inviting along three “friends” who they know from their long acquaintance at the other end of a Paypal transaction.

Way more concerning, though, is the bit about masks being required “except when actively eating or drinking.” Aside from being hard to enforce — we’ve already seen lots of fans taking masks on and off at NFL games — it’s not like the virus is going to see if you’re eating or drinking at the moment and go, “Oh, that’s cool, I won’t spread right now.” Having more people masked for more of the time is useful harm reduction, but adding a loophole for eating or drinking is a major potential disease vector.

(The bag thing has nothing to do with viral spread — what, are they afraid people are going to sneak in virus in a backpack? — and everything to do with making sure people eat only food they buy from the league.)

And then there’s the biggest elephant in the room, which is that Globe Life Field is a roofed stadium; in fact, that’s its entire reason for existence. If there’s one thing that’s become clear about the virus that causes Covid, it’s that it spreads far more effectively indoors than outdoors, thanks to stagnant and recirculating air. I’m not aware of any studies that investigate whether roofed sports stadiums should count as “indoor” or “outdoor” for viral spread purposes, but suffice to say there won’t be any passing breezes refreshing the air at the Rangers ballpark if the roof is closed.

But don’t just take it from me. Listen to an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Public Health on that school’s plans to all fans into (outdoor) football games:

Audrey Pettifor, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the Gillings School, said reopening the stadium is not a good idea, calling it “crazy.”

She said she had doubts about just how safe thousands of people gathering in a stadium could really be, especially considering the amount of infrastructure required for safe entrance and exit from the stadium, as well as the difficulty of enforcing sanitation and mask protocols on individuals.

“If everyone wore masks, then we would say the risk of transmission is probably really low, no matter the size of the crowd,” Pettifor said. “But if there’s a hole in that chain, depending on the number of positive people in that crowd, the number of people who are unmasked and the number of people who are closer than six feet apart, then our risk starts going up.”

MLB’s plan to sell tickets to postseason games is full of holes. (In its chain. Which normally has a hole in each link, but okay, it’s not a perfect metaphor, just go with it.) So far there don’t appear to have been any major outbreaks at NFL or MLS games that have allowed in fans, so maybe MLB will be able to roll the dice here and everything will be fine. Or maybe the league is inching up to the line where it will recreate Game Zero in Milan, and then loose tons of newly infected fans to bring the virus back to their home towns once the games are over. We still have a limited number of risk bullets, and we — or at least MLB officials and the governor of Texas — are choosing to spend them on rich people getting to watch baseball games in person.

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8 comments on “MLB’s plan for fans at World Series should work fine if viruses agree to take a break while you’re eating

  1. Won’t you please think of these poor owners! They’ve already had to sacrifice around 100 games of paid attendance! They need other rich peoples money! Or else they are going to go back to local politicians and ask for it!

    Oh wait. They’ll probably do that anyway.

  2. Hey Neil:

    This is an interesting situation. Now, there are few activities I would risk my health for, but attending a major Ieague ball game is one of them. I think I would attend under most of the conditions they’ve established at Globe Life Park.

    The oddest thing is though, as you pointed out, it’s an indoor facility and I normally would shun such a place. Now 28% occupancy is pretty low density and that’s good (if these pods are adequate). That along with masks can go far to protect people during a 3 hour game (perhaps). I would be curious how many times an hour the air is changed in that building. If it’s changed 5- 6 times per hour, that should keep the air inside pretty clear and should further limit exposure.

    Or, maybe I’ll just wait until they’re playing outside at Dodger Stadium or Petco.

    1. I doubt the stadium is set up for frequent air exchange. Retractable roofed stadiums are usually just big barns.

      That said, I can see some people feeling it’s worth the risk. My bigger concern, though, is the risk to the people they could pass the virus along to – I’m sure lots of Sturgis attendees though that was worth the risk, and that hasn’t worked out too well for the population of the Dakotas.

  3. It’s the mask exemption for the eating and drinking that stands out like a sore thumb. Anyone with a drink in their hand will breathe and holler like it’s 1999. All for the profits on 11,000 cokes.

    BTW stay well everyone, thanks as ever Neil for my occasional hit of American sanity.

    1. Presumably so that no team can get a home-field advantage. Until the World Series, but the Rangers won’t make it there regardless.

      1. I never thought of that, good call. And kudos for reporting so well on the Anaheim debacle, a particularly heinous example of taxpayers getting ripped off bigtime. Again. By the by, my boss, a Yankee fan, told me yesterday that the Steinbrenners paid the whole $2b tab for their newish playground, which I find awfully hard to believe. I heard $1.2b with significant taxpayer, um, input.

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