Professional Sports In The Time of Pandemic

By Richard Davis

It would seem that Major League Baseball (MLB) would have been able to figure out how to resume their season without fans in the stands by now. They have nearly unlimited financial resources and they certainly have the personnel to work on solving all of the logistical problems that have to be dealt with. Players have made comments that they would find it difficult to play without fans, but if they really had a love for the game they would realize that the fans would adjust temporarily. They owe it to their fans to make a better effort.

Professional sports in this country are driven by obscene salaries and, no matter what well-intentioned people might say, money rules. Consider these numbers.

The average MLB salary is $4.4 million. The highest paid baseball player earns $30 million a year and it is not uncommon for players to negotiate a contract such as that of Mike Trout who stands to make over $426 million in 12 years. The MLB minimum salary is $90,400.

The average National Basketball Association (NBA) salary is $6.3 million with a range of $816,482 to $40 million a year. The poorer National Hockey League only has a yearly average salary of $11.7 million with a range from $650,000 to $19 million. The National Football League (NFL) top salary is $35 million. The NFL minimum salary is $480,000 and the average yearly salary is over $2.7 million.

Compare those numbers to the average baseball player salary of $166,000 in Korea in 2016. Korean baseball has resumed without fans. When there is less money at stake the game can go on.

If fans are not buying overpriced tickets then the current salary levels will be difficult to support. Fans should be demanding that players renegotiate pandemic salaries so that the game can go on. Instead, nothing is happening.

If baseball games were televised nationally there would still be considerable revenue that could be negotiated. Why not figure out what the new revenue would be and then adjust salaries accordingly? If the players really cared about the fans they would find a way to resume games. It would provide a much needed psychic boost to sports fans.

Team owners might counter that they cannot control the spread of COVID 19 if they resume playing baseball because of problems related to travel. They already travel on their own charter jets and it would not be that complicated to reserve their usual block of rooms at hotels if local and state governments collaborate.

There could be a COVID 19 testing program that could be done on a regular basis and protocols could be enacted in order to stop the spread of any infection. MLB could become a model for the other professional sports. If other professional team sports are to resume, it is clear that contracted salaries and playing conditions will have to be renegotiated and players will have to tighten their belts by possibly having to live on a measly few hundred thousand dollars a year.

If the baseball season does resume this year it will mean that greed did not win out. I am not hopeful.

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