We’ve been hearing for nearly two months now about how Major League Baseball may be planning to return, with the latest report setting June 10 and July 1 as tentative targets for spring training and Opening Day. Money is obviously a huge motivating factor for owners and players alike, probably the overwhelming driver if we’re being honest, but emotion is at least in the back seat giving directions. And since the human element isn’t completely lost until your net worth can be expressed by at least nine zeroes, the MLB Players Association must weigh more than salaries.
There’s also the matter of baseball fans, without whom none of those salaries would be possible. Owners are already hemorrhaging gate and concession revenues and it’s a certainty that at least the early part of the season will be played in empty ballparks, but the desire for baseball — any live sporting events, for that matter — to return should at least produce solid TV ad revenue.
So where’s the inflection point at which the collective public thirst for baseball’s return overrides the desire to continue with strict safety measures? Perhaps a better — and perhaps less polarizing — question revolves around when people believe baseball can and should return. While this pandemic shutdown is impacting everyone differently, it’s generally causing much higher levels of stress across the board.
According to a recent survey by eMediHealth aimed at evaluating “how well the general public is coping with the coronavirus outbreak and the subsequent lockdown situation,” 73% of respondents reported being more than mildly stressed. It’s foolish to believe all of those people are baseball fans, but the overwhelming favorites among de-stressing practices involved watching television in some form. As such, having MLB back in live action might aid our collective mental well-being.
One thing I can tell you people are not doing to relieve stress is reading baseball blogs, though that will probably change immediately upon the sport’s resumption. What isn’t likely to change anytime soon, however, is the general public’s willingness to attend large events. Taiwan’s CPBL is going to start allowing up to 1,000 fans into its ballparks as of May 8, but restrictions in the US probably won’t ease to that extent for quite some time. Even if that timeline is hastened, the precautions below tell us there’ll be more than a little trepidation when it comes to ballgames, concerts, etc.
While none of us will actually have any say over it in the end, I was interested in finding out for myself what fans thought about when MLB will be rebooted. With full understanding that some respondents may have answered with when they think the season should start, my goal was to find out what people anticipate will actually take place. For those viewing on a connection that blocks social media, the choice were: June 10/July 1; a late-season tournament; 2021; and other.
When do you think MLB will return? Choose answer that best fits your thoughts:
— Evan Altman (@DEvanAltman) May 7, 2020
Out of 422 responses, 53% believed MLB would move forward with some sort of plan involving spring training in June with the regular season starting in July. Several people commented specifically to note that they did not support such a plan at this point, just that they believed it was inevitable. Another 37% believed the season will be cancelled entirely, making it the runaway second-place answer.
Another 9% of respondents thought a league-wide tourney in the fall was most likely, with a mere 1% opting for other. I was unable to find in the replies any actual description of what those alternatives might be, so you’re guess is as good as mine there. Not that it matters a great deal with only a handful of responses. So, uh, yeah…guess we’ll wait and see.
I’m very interested in how this plays out in real life since MLB is going to have a strike a very delicate balance between taking advantage of the current sports void and coming back safely. It does seem as though a lot of people are viewing recent reports of a plan to return as more ironclad than what I believe them to be, but the league forcing the issue could end up alienating some fans just as it energizes others. The same could be true for players.
Should MLB opt to strong-arm the union in an attempt to enforce the guidelines of the agreement the two sides reached last month, the labor situation could become untenable. That isn’t likely, mind you, as everyone involved seems committed to playing some sort of season. But the league can enforce rules like a five-round draft and might also be able to reduce pay per a particularly contentious portion of the service-time pact.
We should find out soon exactly what is in the league’s proposal to restart the season, after which there’ll be about a month to see where things are heading from a health and safety standpoint. My money is firmly on the end result hewing very closely to the June-July deal, but I reserve the right to change my outlook as the situation progresses.