Says the Wall Street Journal:
Major League Baseball endured an ugly labor dispute and withstood a pair of significant coronavirus outbreaks that threatened to bring everything down.
As a reward, the industry will lose $3 billion this year.
Now baseball heads toward the playoffs, bruised and battered from a string of crises but still standing. Rob Manfred, the commissioner tasked with overseeing this unprecedented campaign, believes the struggle served an important purpose beyond supplying a distraction and entertainment for an ailing country in difficult times.
“We felt if we could demonstrate that if you can operate in a reasonably normal way, you can do it without jeopardizing the public health, you can do it without presenting undue risk to your employees, then it would provide an example for people,” Manfred said in an interview last week.
Baseball managed to survive to this point without any fans in attendance. But it came at a cost: The sport usually derives about 40% of its annual revenue from the in-stadium experience, like ticket sales, concessions and parking fees.
So while conquering 2020 is an achievement, repeating it with a full schedule in 2021 will be just as challenging. The thought of teams opening their ballparks to 40,000 fans as early as April seems aspirational at best, raising questions about the financial landscape moving forward.
Manfred described the idea of playing 162 games next year without fans as “economically devastating,” adding that the losses “would be a multiple” of the $3 billion from this season. So the moment the World Series ends late next month, baseball’s primary mission is to figure out what 2021 might look like, no matter the circumstances.
“If we’re going to play next year, and if we don’t have a vaccine and we aren’t past the pandemic, I think we need to think hard about what measures we can take to get people back into the ballpark,” Manfred said.