There is plenty of pain and dislocation in US sports, but it would be a mistake to think that all is well in the rest of the world. The coronavirus outbreak in China halted the Chinese Basketball Association; in Japan and in South Korea, the professional baseball leagues are dealing with a postponed Opening Day; the British Open has been cancelled for 2020 – not merely postponed. There is plenty of dislocation to go around.
Another serious situation exists for the English Premier League (EPL):
- The last game played in the EPL was on March 9th. The league plays 10 games over a long weekend, so the league has “missed” about 40 games so far.
- The schedule is postponed “indefinitely”. The official statement from the EPL is that games “will only return when it is safe and appropriate to do so”. The EPL has also said that it will reopen only when it has the full support of the government and the medical community there.
- The clubs have asked the players to take a pay cut in order to keep all the clubs solvent. Obviously, the players’ union opposed that action and used a unique argument to bolster their opposition. According to the union, if the players took a pay cut, the government would not receive approximately £200 in taxes and that tax shortfall would negatively affect the National Health Service. [Aside: I believe the appropriate adjective in England applied to that argument would be “cheeky”.]
- After that initial standoff, there was an announcement by the Southampton Club that the team and its players have reached an agreement to defer part of the player salaries through April, May and June.
- I read a report – that I did not fully understand – which said that the biggest TV deal between a broadcaster and the EPL had a way for the broadcaster to recoup almost £700M from the league if there were not a certain number of games played in a stated time window. As Will Rogers was wont to say, “I only know what I read in the newspapers.”
The EPL revenue for the 20 clubs was projected to have been about €5.7B for this year. For the most recently completed season, attendance for all the EPL games was 14.6 million fans. I present those numbers to demonstrate that the EPL is a very large enterprise – and its financial foundation has been rattled by the COVID-19 outbreak. And with that as a framework for the potent effect of this coronavirus, think about how it is affecting some of the niche sports here in the US:
- The WNBA ended is last season on the highest note in league history. During the offseason, the league and its players negotiated a significant – some have said “groundbreaking” – CBA. The league was set to enjoy expanded TV coverage and players were set to receive significant salary increases. Last week, the WNBA announced that its training camps would not open on schedule and that the regular season would not begin on May 15 as had been the plan. [Aside: The WNBA will hold its Draft on April 17 as has been scheduled all along.]
- The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) had been scheduled to begin play on April 18. It has postponed all games for the 9 teams in the league through May 6th. That seems like a hugely optimistic stance with regard to resuming the regular season schedule – one that has games until the middle of October. Like the WNBA, the NWSL came into 2020 with momentum behind it given the success and the exposure provided by the players who were on the US Women’s National Team in last year’s Women’s World Cup.
- Major League Soccer is in full shut-down. The league’s 26 teams had each played 2 games in the 2020 season when they had to go dark. Many teams have furloughed employees and a quick visit to the MLS website shows all games as “postponed” until May 10 – another hugely optimistic stance with regard to resuming the regular season schedule.
- World Team Tennis (WTT) has not yet felt a COVID-19 effect because the WTT regular season is not scheduled to begin until July 12. The official statement from the WTT regarding its schedule is:
“Keeping our players, fans, and staff safe is at the forefront of our decision-making. WTT will continue to heed the recommendations by the CDC, WHO and United States government – which includes adhering to our federal government’s current stay-at-home order through April 30 – and will post another update no later than the first week of May as new information becomes available.”
There is another scheduling/financial impact of COVID-19. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that a second worker at the construction site for Allegiant Stadium – where the Raiders are scheduled to play in 2020 if/when there is a season in 2020 – has tested positive for COVID-19. After the first reported case, the construction management company took measures to effect social distancing at the worksite and initiated a “vigorous cleaning schedule” onsite. Supervisors have been carrying out their tasks via telework when possible and construction was reportedly on pace. The second case makes this problematic. Here is a potentially ominous part of the story in the Review-Journal:
“The worker was not in close contact with other employees because of social distancing protocols and was on site for one week before leaving April 2, prior to experiencing symptoms of the disease caused by the new coronavirus”
The known infected worker had been offsite for about a week when the second case emerged. If more cases erupt there, it could seriously affect the schedule for the stadium and its availability in September 2020. There is no reason to panic now, but this should be monitored.
Finally, Brad Dickson formerly with the Omaha World-Herald Tweeted this less-than-rosy scenario recently:
“Good news: Walmart is going to begin taking the temperature of customers at the entrance. Bad news: there’s one rectal thermometer for the entire store.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………