Are baseball games going to be played in empty stadiums?
That’s a question that’s being asked in some circles of the internet right now. Soccer leagues in Italy have been playing in front of no one already. So have some European basketball leagues. The Korean Baseball Organization has canceled some of their pre-season games. Japan’s NPB is playing their spring training games in empty stadiums. Olympic baseball qualifying that was supposed to take place in South Korea next month was postponed until mid-summer.
The NHL has closed off locker rooms to media members, instead going to a press conference format for the time being to try and limit actual interactions. The NBA sent out a memo to their teams to prepare for the possibility to play games without fans in the stands. The Indian Wells Tennis Tournament was canceled on Sunday night after there was a confirmed case of Coronavirus in the area that the tournament was set to take place. Last year’s event had an attendance of 450,000 over the two weeks it took place. A basketball game at Johns Hopkins University last week was played to an empty arena over concerns.
For now, Major League Baseball hasn’t gone that far. But they are taking steps toward trying to keep the players healthy. A memo was sent out to media members via the Baseball Writers Association of America asking those who have visited a high-risk area, as defined by the CDC, within the last 14 days not to come to MLB facilities. They also note that they are discussing additional measures internally and with other leagues. But at this time they have not made changes to media access procedures.
Large events are being canceled in the non-sports world left and right. South by Southwest was canceled last week. Google canceled their I/O 2020 event last week, which wasn’t supposed to take place until mid-May this year. Facebook canceled their F8 conference. Both companies have also stopped having on-site interviews at their campuses. Microsoft canceled their MVP Summit that was set to take place March 16th through 20th. Amazon and Microsoft are both telling their employees that work in the greater Seattle area to work from home rather than come into the office.
Bomani Jones of ESPN tweeted out late last night that he believes it’s hard to imagine audiences being allowed at sporting events for much longer.
i can't see the big american team sports events getting cancelled. just too much money on the line. but they may as well play em on sound stages. hard to imagine audiences being allowed for much longer.
— bomani (@bomani_jones) March 9, 2020
There are other countries quarantining entire cities over this. For now it seems that things are going to be in the “wash your hands thorough and often” camp, mixed in with “if you are immune-compromised, stay home”, but we might start seeing more extreme measures being taken with regards to sporting events, and soon.
It was only a few years ago when Major League Baseball played a game with no fans in the stands. Riots in Baltimore postponed games for two days between the Orioles and White Sox, before the scheduled third game was played with only team and media staff in attendance. We may not be too far from seeing something like this once again.
As things go for the Cincinnati Reds specifically, they’ll follow the league protocol. Opening Day is clearly a huge event, not just for the Reds, but for the city as a whole. While there are only about 44,000 people inside the ballpark between fans and workers, there are probably just as many people downtown for Opening Day who won’t be inside. The Opening Day parade draws tens of thousands of people to the streets. The banks outside of the ballpark are overflowing with fans before the game.
— Cincinnati Reds (@Reds) April 3, 2014
Gatherings of large groups of people are being canceled left and right. We may not be there yet, but it feels like it’s getting closer to being truly considered every day in the major sports here in America.
Updated: 12:45pm on March 9th
The Nippon Professional Baseball league, Japan’s top league, is postponing the beginning of the 2020 season according to Jim Allen of the Daily Yomiuri and jballallen.com. Their season was scheduled to begin on March 20th.
Update: 1:45pm on March 9th
Joel Sherman of The New York Post and MLB Network is reporting that later today Major League Baseball will be holding a conference call with the owners of teams to discuss coronavirus – and that for now the plan is going to be to have the season begin on time and with fans in the crowd.
MLB is holding a 5pm cofnerence call with the 30 owners to discuss where matters stands with the coronavirus. As of NOW, MLB is still planning for the season to begin on time and fans in the crowd.
— Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) March 9, 2020