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.

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.

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 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.

19 Responses

  1. Steve Schoenbaechler

    While a horrible question to consider, what can happen is much worse. I mean, the most recent confirmed cases in Kentucky, they weren’t due to travel. No one traveled to the infected areas anywhere. And, they still caught it.

    Not to mention, when you can just watch the game on TV?

    Hey, it will get me to consider things. I will still probably go to a game. But, I will be considering things more.

  2. Telecaster

    Every time I open an amazon box I joke to the family. This one has the virus in it, I’m sure(since most packages originate in China) .Guess it’s in poor taste and I should stop.

  3. Big Ed

    They needn’t ban fans from Marlins home games. “Social distancing” is already in full effect there.

    You could probably add the Orioles and Rays in that, too, except when the Yankees or Red Sox are playing there.

  4. RedsFan11

    Can’t believe it was this long ago (had to look it up), but I remember going to a game vs Phillies in April 2013. Bailey was on the mound and was dominating. 2 hits 0BB, 10K, in 8 innings. Then the game was suspended between the 9th or top of the 9th (I forget) as it began pouring.

    The Reds did a really cool thing and decided to pick up the game the next day at like 5pm I believe. If you had a ticket to the game you could come back and even stay for the next game that night for free. Well we went and it was most surreal and neat experience ever. Maybe 500 people in the park at that’s generous. We sat behind the visitor dugout, and there was no doubt the players could here you. It was so quiet, it just felt so weird but so cool.

    Reds loaded the bases right away and walked off, then proceeded to win the next game that night 11-2. Good times. good times.

    Canceling because of fear paranoia brought on by media. not so good times.

    • greenmtred

      So this is the fault of the media? I was pretty sure that it was the fault of a virus which spreads fast and has no cure, currently. Glad to know that I’m suffering from a delusion.

      • Doug Gray

        Yeah, Italy, the country, definitely is quarantining their entire population, because of the media. That’s what’s going on – the media is shutting down entire countries.

  5. centerfield

    So MLB could do the right thing, tell fans to stay home and then broadcast the games on free TV. I actually think something like this would improve interest in the game for a long term. Schedule all games right after school let’s out for the day. If the virus actually fades in the summer, open up the gates.

  6. Doug Gray

    No reported cases in the state of Ohio is useless. The state of Ohio has tested 14 whole people.

    • Doug Gray

      I don’t know how you think that proves your point…. but alright.

  7. Jeff Gangloff

    My two cents:

    Be sensible. If you aren’t feeling well or are sick – stay away from people, wash your hands, and just be smart. The data shows that if you are younger than 60 you have about a .02% change of dying from this thing. You will most likely have mild symptoms and be fine. My biggest fear is catching it and spreading it to someone else that may be at risk – not catching the virus itself.

    If you have preexisting conditions, are elderly, or somehow at risk – take it upon yourself to stay away from public places or places where you are at greater risk of catching the virus (Opening Day).

    We have to take it upon ourselves to keep everyone safe out there. Cancelling Opening Day seems like overkill to me. At some point we as a people need to take responsibility for ourselves and do the right thing if we think we are at risk or are risking other people.

    • greenmtred

      That’s reasonable, but there is a problem: Evidently, people can have it and be asymptomatic. They’d feel fine and still be able to spread it to other people. Even if those people are predominantly young and don’t get severe cases, the more of them there are, the more likely it is that vulnerable people will be exposed.

  8. Linkster

    Remember last year when the Reds were hit with the (now seems simple) flu bug. Players and staff were dropping like flies. The Coronavirus is in a league of it’s own.

  9. JayTheRed

    As of 3/9/20 – only 423 Cases reported cases, and 19 deaths, though I did see something that said just over 600 cases now today in the entire country.

    The percentage of cases is so small compared to the population currently that it would be foolish and unnecessary for restrictions to be put in place.

    At this point people need to keep calm and just take care of your self. Be healthy.

    • Doug Gray

      Please don’t confuse cases with confirmed cases. There are people, nurses who work in hospitals who have treated people with it, showing signs of it, who literally aren’t being tested because the government won’t allow it. The state of Ohio has tested 14 whole people. They have hundreds of others basically on a “watch list”.

    • greenmtred

      Staying calm and being healthy is always good. Not putting restrictions in place when the virus is in its early stages here likely guarantees that it will spread exponentially. I understand that this would put various “stakeholders” noses out of joint, but the idea is to contain the damage so it doesn’t become uncontrolled. Epidemiologists have estimated that, in a worst-case scenario, 100 million Americans could be infected. Imagine the noses THAT would put out of joint.

  10. Tom Mitsoff

    A question regarding the health of the major league baseball business as opposed to the health of the general public: What in the heck would MLB teams do about all of the pre-sold tickets, including season tickets, if games are played in front of empty stadiums? Those ticket holders would certainly need to be refunded somehow. A few games, that would put a hurt to the bottom line, but probably recoverable over time.

    Several weeks or months, though? Hard to imagine what might happen. Doubtful that teams have insurance against something like this.

    • Doug Gray

      I can’t speak to teams having insurance against this, but I did read about SXSW being canceled and their organizers claimed that while they have insurance against cancellation, it doesn’t include things like pandemics. Perhaps that was just something they weren’t willing to pay extra for in their policy – but it might just be something that simply isn’t offered by insurance companies.

  11. greenmtred

    Last I saw, U.S. healthcare didn’t crack the top 20 worldwide, and since there is no vacine yet, and no cure, and no acquired immunity in this country, we probably won’t shrug this off. Another factor is the age of baseball’s fan base: Old, and that’s the vulnerable group.