As Sports Move Closer to Return, Labor Issues Take Center Stage
Friday at 11:04 pm
When it comes to the prospect of restarting sports again in this country, the health and public safety issues are at the forefront. That’s just as first glance however. Upon further inspection, we’re finding that beyond the issues of playing safely amid the world of COVID-19, the sports world of “office politics” take over. The more people involved in the sport, the harder it is to social distance, obviously, but it’s also hard to get all the different stakeholders aligned on the same page.
For the most part, it’s the classic struggle of ownership/management versus labor- the conflict that defines capitalism to its core. And of course, labor issues are all about who gets what slice of the revenue pie. As Notorious B.I.G. famously told us: “it’s like the more money we come across, the more problems we see.” Let’s take a look at where the current sports stand right now, in terms of restarting.
Horse racing is set to return in this state at two Illinois racetracks, Hawthorne Race Course and Fairmount Park, but the timetable for the biggest and best venue, Arlington, is still unclear at this time. As the most most popular racebook in the US will tell you, it’s a sport that is largely consumed remotely anyway. The term itself “off track betting” says it all, and that’s been part of the lexicon since the 1970s.
NASCAR is another sport that lends itself easily to social distancing, and also is not very difficult in regards to competing interests. The auto racing body returned to action at Darlington on May 17. Both auto and horse racing events will be staged without fans allowed. One would think that goes without saying- all sporting events will be staged behind closed doors, but that’s not entirely true. Golf returns in less than two weeks with the PGA Tour’s Charles Schwab Challenge, June 11-14 at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth.
It will be played without fans, but the state of Texas, in the specifics of its re-opening policies, would allow spectators there, albeit at much less than capacity. With team sports, it’s much more complicated. The NWSL announced this week that they will host the NWSL Challenge Cup in the Salt Lake City area beginning on June 27. If it goes off without a hitch, they’ll become the first team sports league to reactivate since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
The NHL announced its 24-team return-to-play model this week, with a plan that effectively ended the 2019-20 regular season. Thus it goes straight into the Stanley Cup playoffs, with eight more teams than usual qualifying for the playoffs. The plan, as of now, has more questions than answers, the first of which being- which hub city will be the staging ground for this tournament?
MLS is also going the tournament in one central location route, with Orlando, FL the chosen destination. Earlier plans, which called for players to be out of market and thus away from their families, were rejected by the MLS Players Association. The MLSPA is negotiating with league leadership about how drastic a paycut, 10% or 7.5% the players will have to take. It is thought that players will decamp from their hometown markets and head to Orlando starting June 21.
Speaking of Orlando, all signs indicate the NBA will eventually resume its season there, at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. The league’s Board of Governors will hold a vote Thursday, where they are expected to approve commissioner Adam Silver’s plan.
Which brings us to the real big question- will we have a Major League Baseball season in 2020? On the most recent episode of Last Week Tonight, host John Oliver, quoted a MLB rep telling the Washington Post: “I would be lying if we were to say we had a good idea, they’re all degrees of bad.”
The biggest sticking point? Labor issues of course. It’s easy for the media to paint this dispute with the “millionaires versus billionaires” brush, but that’s being very simplistic, and ultimately missing the point. ESPN has the latest at this link, and well, if you’re with the players on this one, then you’re probably on the right side of history here.
Paul M. Banks runs The Sports Bank.net, which is partnered with News Now. Banks, the author of “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry,” regularly contributes to WGN TV, Sports Illustrated, Chicago Now and SB Nation.
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