UPDATED with postponement of Yankees-Phillies game. The Miami Marlins postponed their home opener against the Baltimore Orioles amid a COVID-19 outbreak, threatening the Major League Baseball season just days after its delayed start.
Up to 14 players and staffers with the Marlins have tested positive for the coronavirus in recent days, according to media reports. The Philadelphia Phillies, who played the Marlins over the weekend, are now awaiting results of COVID-19 tests. A significant number of positives among the Phillies would be an ominous sign for the season, which finally got underway last Thursday after months of wrangling over terms and fretting over health protocols.
The New York Yankees canceled their scheduled game in Philadelphia on Monday night. In a statement, MLB said it is co-ordinating its response with its players’ union and the teams directly affected. The league called an emergency meeting of its owners for 12:30PM ET.
Unlike leagues like the NBA or NHL, which have convened “bubbles” where all players and coaches are remaining for the duration of the season, baseball teams are playing in their usual stadiums, without fans. The NFL is planning to pursue a similar approach as it looks to get its players on the field and is watching baseball closely for indications of the challenges ahead. One issue for baseball is that it tests players every other day, with the frequency of games requiring them to play while awaiting test results, as it appears was the case with the Marlins.
Instead of the usual 162-game regular season, MLB settled on a 60-game campaign and has doubled the usual number of playoff teams to 16. It still is aiming to conclude its playoffs by the end of October, with the idea of playing any later into the fall complicated by weather in many cities and competition (in theory) from football.
The Marlins, who remained in Philadelphia pending the results of further tests, played the Atlanta Braves in an exhibition game last week, prior to their series in Philadelphia. ESPN reported that the infections could have happened there. Florida and Georgia are among states grappling with major surges in COVID-19.
While the NFL and NBA have made more noise and eclipsed baseball economically of late, MLB remains a lucrative property on TV. Regional sports networks across the country center their operations on baseball, with games drawing sizable ratings and generating solid local ad dollars despite eroding viewership across the dial.
Fox and ESPN have shelled out about $800 million a year in a long-term deal for national TV rights. Those pacts are scheduled to expire in 2021. WarnerMedia’s Turner Sports last month extended its deal for playoff broadcasts, for a reported $1 billion.