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Major League Baseball to delay regular season over coronavirus

MLB announced Thursday it will delay the start of the regular season, originally scheduled for March 26, by at least two weeks.
/ Source: NBC News

Major League Baseball announced Thursday it will suspend spring training in response to the coronavirus outbreak and delay the start of the regular season by at least two weeks.

"Following a call with the 30 Clubs, and after consultation with the Major League Baseball Players Association, Commissioner Robert D. Manfred, Jr. today announced that MLB has decided to suspend Spring Training games and to delay the start of the 2020 regular season by at least two weeks due to the national emergency created by the coronavirus pandemic," the statement from MLB said.

"This action is being taken in the interests of the safety and well-being of our players, Clubs and our millions of loyal fans."

The league says that all pre-season games will be cancelled as of 4 p.m. E.T. on Thursday. MLB will announce contingency plans regarding the 2020 regular season at an "appropriate time" with the "hope of resuming normal operations as soon as possible."

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MLB had already joined the NBA, NHL and MLS earlier this week in establishing a policy of no access to clubhouses and locker rooms for media and nonessential employees, prompting speculation of the eventual delay or cancellation of the baseball season.

The baseball league's decision comes after the NBA announced Wednesday it would suspend its season after a Utah Jazz player had tested positive. A second Jazz player has since tested positive.

One major league executive said Wednesday that all the buzz at spring training sites in Florida and Arizona this week has been team owners, executives and players contemplating — and preparing for — a brave new sports world in the time of the coronavirus.

"But then you're talking about what's next, and in a couple of weeks nobody knows what the circumstances will be like at that time," the executive said, referring to how quickly events are changing and decisions are being made in response to the global pandemic.

"And the real wild card is if a (major league) player gets sick with the coronavirus, does only the player get isolated? Or the rest of the team, too?" the executive said.

One major league team had already had its schedule altered as a result of coronavirus. The Seattle Mariners were not going to play games at home stadium T-Mobile Park in March after Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced a ban on gatherings of 250 or more people through the end of the month in three counties, including King County, where the Mariners play.

And the California Department of Health issued a similar ban on large gatherings in that state, which could have affected home openers played by the Oakland A's, San Diego Padres and the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Prior to the MLB decision announced Thursday, the players' union said, "Players want to compete and provide entertainment to fans. The Association’s focus will remain finding ways to do so in an environment that protects not just players’ personal health and safety, but also the health and safety of fans, umpires, ballpark employees, club employees and everyone in the baseball family.”

One NBA team owner, Mark Cuban of the Dallas Mavericks, said earlier that he thought the basketball league made the right call Wednesday in canceling the remainder of its season.

"It's stunning. But we are where we are. We have to be smart in how we respond. This isn't about basketball. This is a global pandemic where people's lives are at stake," Cuban said.

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As to the potential economic effect on MLB, sports economist and Smith College professor Andrew Zimbalist said prior to the announcement that team owners would see a minimal economic setback if the games went on but without fans.

"It would be another matter altogether if you canceled the games," Zimbalist added.

Marc Ganis, the president of Chicago-based Sportscorp Ltd., a sports marketing firm, said there is a reason why sports leagues like Major League Baseball require that owners have strong balance sheets.

"When there are unexpected events like a coronavirus pandemic, (owners) can handle these kinds of unexpected financial problems more efficiently," said Ganis, who has consulted with MLB teams. "In Major League Baseball, the loss of revenue will not be partially made up by lowering the cost of player salaries. In the NBA and NHL, the players receive roughly 50 percent of the revenue, so if the revenues go down, the players will take a reduction. Baseball does not have that kind of arrangement with its Players Association. The owners in baseball will bear the brunt of the losses themselves."