Coronavirus Has Baseball Leagues' Attention
With more novel coronavirus cases being reported around the country, baseball at all levels is faced with a rapidly developing situation. So far, no professional games in the U.S. have been canceled or altered. Other than some recommendations for limiting person-to-person contact (as far as autographs and handshakes are other direct person-to-person contacts are concerned), the games have gone on as normal.
But as the situation continues to develop, teams and leagues are closely monitoring the spread of the virus and keeping in touch with health care experts. And at the high school level, games have already been affected.
Currently, the number of diagnosed cases in the U.S. remains limited to fewer than 500, according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention.
Baseball clubs and leagues at all levels in the U.S. are monitoring the situation for changes and listening to experts for contingency plans in case the virus spreads more widely.
In other countries, the effects on sporting events have been much more significant. In Japan, spring training games for the NPB (Nippon Professional Baseball) have been played in empty stadiums and the start of the season (scheduled for March 20) has been postponed.
In Korea, where the first cases were diagnosed in late January and early February, spring training games have been canceled. No decision has yet been made about Opening Day (March 28). In Italy, where the first cases were diagnosed in late January, all sporting events have been canceled until early April. The last-chance Olympic qualifying tournament in Taiwan has been postponed from April to June.
Formula 1 announced that its second race of the season, the Bahrain Grand Prix, will be conducted without fans allowed through the gates and it also indefinitely postponed the Chinese Grand Prix. The Indian Wells Tennis Tournament, which was set to begin March 9 in California, was canceled.
Minor League Baseball’s season doesn’t begin until April 9, so there is some time before any decisions have to be made. As of now, MiLB, league and team officials around the country are monitoring the situation and listening to the advice of local, state and federal health experts. Those recommendations will help determine what MiLB teams do. And for a sport that stretches from coast to coast, there may be different responses for various cities.
“What’s right to do in one location may not be necessary somewhere else,” International League president Randy Mobley said. “Local, state and federal experts will provide enough guidance. We don’t need to pretend to be experts ourselves.”
Health considerations will eventually dictate MiLB’s decisions on whether any adjustments have to be made. And there are issues that MiLB teams could face that are different than those faced by MLB teams. While MLB teams all fly charter flights to road games, Triple-A teams fly commercially. At Double-A and the levels below, trips are generally taken by charter bus.
College baseball could also be affected. A number of schools, including Stanford, Rice and Washington, have canceled in-person classes because of COVID-19. So far, no schools have postponed or canceled baseball games. Stanford has begun limiting crowds at its events to one-third of the site’s seating capacity, capping the crowds to 1,333 people or fewer at the Sunken Diamond.
While health concerns are paramount, the potential financial effects for MiLB teams by any season delay or games without fans would be quite significant as well. Unlike MLB, which has a multitude of ancillary revenue streams from its media contracts and other sources, the majority of MiLB team revenues are based around attendance, concessions and merchandise sales at home games. The financial success of a minor league team’s season can revolve around whether it loses a significant number of home dates due to weather cancellations.
At the high school level, games have already been canceled. Elk Grove’s Unified School District, the largest school district in Northern California, has canceled classes and all athletic events from March 7-13 because of COVID-19. That has led district baseball teams to cancel their games for this week.