State-of-play: How US leagues are planning return

Monday May 18 2020
By AFP

LOS ANGELES

The tentative reopening of sport in North America gathers pace this weekend with a PGA-Tour backed golf event in Florida and the return of NASCAR in North Carolina.

The events come as professional sports leagues across the region are attempting to hammer out solutions which will allow them to resume or save seasons put on hold by the coronavirus pandemic.

Here is an update of where other major sport leagues stand as they map out their road to a return.

Major League Baseball owners have approved a plan which will see a drastically shortened season starting in early July at ballparks which will be closed to spectators.

The baseball season was due to start on March 26 but was put on hold as the Covid-19 crisis erupted. It means teams now face the prospect of an 82-game campaign instead of the usual 162-game marathon.

The structure of the abbreviated season will also be radically different, with teams mostly playing against opponents from their own divisions, as well as the same division in the opposite league. The move will cut down travel and expenses.

Any return, however, would require backing from the MLB Players Association, which has voiced misgivings about owners' proposals to restructure player contracts for 2020 to help absorb financial losses estimated at roughly $100 million per team.

MORE TO LOSE

Major League Soccer shut down in March after only two weeks of the season and arguably has more to lose than many other professional sports from a protracted suspension of competition.

MLS clubs derive the bulk of their earnings from game-day revenues, meaning the league will face a brutal financial hit until fans are allowed back in the stadiums.

Reports this week have suggested that MLS chiefs are aiming to end the shutdown by sending all 26 teams to Florida to participate in a stand alone tournament played inside a secure "bubble" at Disney World's ESPN Wide World of Sports complex.

According to the MLS proposal, teams would head to Florida in June for one month of training, before the tournament kicks off roughly three to four weeks later.

The games would not be part of the regular season, and it remains unclear when or if the formal 2020 campaign would be completed.

The National Basketball Association is reportedly eyeing a return which will see all 30 teams based in one or two locations, with Orlando and Las Vegas believed to be the front-runners.

However, the fine detail of what an eventual return to competition will look like remains shrouded in uncertainty.

While any return is expected to take place in empty arenas, it is unclear whether the resumption will pick up where the regular season left off in March, or whether the league will jump straight into an expanded playoffs with a play-in to determine teams beyond the usual 16 spots.

NO FANS

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has told players that in the absence of a Covid-19 vaccine, fan-less arenas may be a feature of the league into 2021.

Silver said this week the league expects to study outbreak and testing developments for another two to four weeks before making a decision about a return to competition.

With coronavirus shutting down the National Hockey League just days before regular season was supposed to end on April 4, the league could jump straight into the playoffs if and when it returns.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman this week voiced his determination to finish the season but stressed that any modified format would have to preserve the integrity of the competition.

"It's got to be fair, it's got to have integrity, and if we have to do it over the summer on some modified basis, then we'll do it on that basis," Bettman said.

The NHL is reportedly planning to structure a return around four "hub" cities, with teams almost certainly playing in empty arenas.

The New York Post meanwhile has reported that one reopening plan under consideration is a 24-team tournament that would include a best-of-three, play-in round.