Rob Manfred: MLB could lose up to $4 billion if there is no season

A 2020 without Major League Baseball would lead to losses for the industry that “could approach $4 billion,” commissioner Rob Manfred said Thursday night.

In an interview on CNN’s “AC360” with Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Manfred also expressed hope that he and his Players Association equivalent Tony Clark could find common ground on economic terms for a shortened baseball season, laid out the health and safety protocols that already have been proposed to the union and expressed support for any player who opted out of this experiment due to concerns about the coronavirus.

Manfred and his deputies held a virtual meeting Tuesday with Clark and his deputies, the first formal get-together to go over the launch of this season like no other, with no new talks scheduled yet. The two sides primarily dialogued about health and safety, with the union asking for additional information, rather than the fiscal conundrum, saving those tender talks for later.

“I think that whenever there’s a discussion about economics, publicly people tend to characterize it as a fight,” Manfred said. “For me personally, I have great confidence that we’ll reach an agreement with the Players Association both that it’s safe to come back to work and work out the economic issues that need to be resolved.”

The economic issue is rather elementary, if sensitive. Players feel that they should receive their prorated salaries for putting themselves in harm’s way, whereas the owners contend that isn’t reasonable if they can’t sell tickets as well as parking, concessions and the like, putting a serious dent in their revenues. His bosses, the owners, Manfred said, are hurting.

“The economic effects are devastating, frankly, for the clubs,” Manfred said. “We’re a big business, but we’re a seasonal business, and unfortunately, this crisis began at kind of a low point for us in terms of revenue. We hadn’t quite started our season yet and if we don’t play a season the losses for the owners could approach $4 billion.”

That would amount to about $133.3 million per team.

The commissioner detailed the plans for testing, quarantining and the likes that he presented to the union on Tuesday. Players will be tested “multiple times a week,” he said with a 24-hour turnaround for results courtesy of a laboratory in Utah that has previously collected players’ drug tests. If a player tests positive, Manfred said, the sport need not shut down: “Our experts are advising us that we don’t need a 14-day quarantine [for those exposed]. What we will do is, the positive individual will be removed from the rest of the group. There will be a quarantine arrangement in each facility and each city. And then we’ll do contact tracing for the individuals that we believe there was contact with and we will do point-of-care testing for those individuals to minimize the likelihood that there’s been a spread.”

Affected players will be quarantined, Manfred added, until they receive two negative tests in a 24-hour period.

Asked how he would react if a player simply didn’t feel safe playing, Manfred said, “We hope that we will be able to convince the vast, vast majority of our players that it’s safe to return to work. The protocols for returning to play, the health-related protocols, are about 80 pages in length. They’re extraordinarily detailed. They cover everything from how the players will travel. Private charters. How those charters have to be cleaned. Who has access to the ballpark. Strict limits on number of people. Tiering of employees so even those people who are in the ballpark will be isolated from the players. So we’re hoping that we’ll be able to convince them that it’s safe.

“At the end of the day, however, if there’s players with either health conditions or just their own personal doubts, we would never force them or try to force them to come back to work. They can wait until they feel they’re ready to come.”

He has been in touch with U.S. governors from the states that house teams, Manfred said, about the viability of hosting games by the desired start date of early July. He didn’t mention Toronto, home of the Blue Jays, which could be a problem with Canada’s current mandate that people quarantine for 14 days after arriving in the country.

“Assuming that we try to play some games starting in the first half of July, most governors expressed hope that we would be able to use facilities, of course initially without fans,” Manfred said. “But we do have contingency plans if in fact there was a problem in a particular market. We have contingency plans where that team could play somewhere else, at least temporarily.”

— with Joel Sherman

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