This weekend, fans of some sports will get to watch live competition instead of replays of old games and tournaments, and instead of current athletes playing video-game versions of their sports.
For golf fans, the “silly season” made-for-TV events are giving way to an actual PGA event: The golfers at this week’s Charles Schwab Challenge are able to practice social distancing just out of normal sportsmanship, but CBS’ Jim Nantz will be alone in the tower at the Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas, as Nick Faldo and other commentators chime in from a TV studio in Orlando, Fla.
Stock-car racers have been back out on the tracks since mid-May, albeit in front of empty stands. But on Sunday, NASCAR will welcome fans back inside Homestead-Miami Speedway for the Dixie Vodka 400 (corporate sponsorship is, of course, big in that sport).
Milwaukee Bucks fans now know that they’ll be able to watch their team continue its pursuit of an NBA title on or about July 31. Not at the Fiserv Forum, unfortunately — the NBA’s plan calls for all remaining games to be played at the massive Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando — but when you’ve been waiting for a championship since 1971, you’ll take Giannis Antetokounmpo slam-dunks any way you can get them.
The National Hockey League’s owners and players have worked out a plan to return. Even Major League Soccer, the top North American league in that sport, will be back on July 8 with a World Cup-style tournament, also at the Wide World of Sports Complex (we haven’t been there; we’re guessing it’s pretty big).
It’s nearly summer; where, you may ask, are the Boys of Summer, the Major League Baseball players?
Haggling with the owners over money.
The latest offer from Major League Baseball Players Association, the players’ union, calls for an 89-game season, with each player receiving a pro-rated salary; since the season is cut to nearly half its 162-game norm, the players’ offer would cut their salaries by a corresponding percentage.
ESPN baseball correspondent Jeff Passan wrote Tuesday night on Twitter that “while MLB will reject this offer from the union, it takes the sides much closer to a likely number of games.” The MLBPA has stood firm on full pro rata — a recent owners’ offer which called for 75 percent of pro-rated salaries was quickly rejected — and MLB is adamant about ending the season Sept. 27, as its TV-network partners don’t want to move playoff games to dates in November or beyond, Passan wrote.
The union isn’t wrong to insist on the same per-game pay each player negotiated in good faith. But the owners aren’t wrong to point out that those salaries were negotiated on the expectation that at every game there would be a crowd of 28,317 paying customers — that’s the average attendance at an MLB game in 2019 — in the stands buying hot dogs, beer and ice cream.
It’s understood that most or all MLB games in 2020 will be played in empty stadiums. The money the players and owners are haggling over is TV money, because that’s the only revenue coming in this season.
Both sides are going to need to compromise further to close the deal. What both sides also need to recognize is that if there are no games this season, that’s another missed opportunity to hook younger fans.
That’s a particular problem for Major League Baseball: A 2017 study commissioned by the Sports Business Journal found that while the age of the average MLB fan is 57, the age of the average NBA fan is 42.
In a normal year, younger sports fans are engrossed in the NBA playoffs until mid-June, but they don’t then turn their attention to baseball; they find other things to do until the National Football League (average fan age: 50) regular season starts around Labor Day.
As we wrote in this space earlier this spring, MLB players and owners shouldn’t presume all of the fans, especially all of the younger fans, will come back in 2021 if there’s no 2020 season.
Those fans might have found other sports to hold their attention.
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