An Update on Major League Sports & COVID-19
August 14, 2020
For sports fans, the last few weekends may have seemed like they would never arrive. But for the most part, major league sports have returned. Major League Baseball, NHL hockey, NBA basketball, the PGA tour, and events like UFC mixed martial arts are all back in action. But what about the athletes involved? What is each league doing to protect the health of its athletes, and how has the resumption of major league sports gone so far?
Major League Baseball Faces Initial Challenges
The first of the traditional four North American professional leagues to return was Major League Baseball. Unlike the NBA and NHL, MLB did not utilize a bubble approach, meaning their teams and players are still travelling from city to city. However, this has led to a host of problems, including some teams experiencing large outbreaks of COVID-19.
Some teams have had a number of players test positive for COVID-19, including the Miami Marlins, who had 17 players on the injured list following an outbreak that led to games being postponed. Other teams, including Cleveland, have had to send players home after they broke team or league virus containment protocols.
This has led to the league considering a playoff bubble as the truncated season fast approaches its conclusion. According to a story published by Yahoo News, the league will face challenges in setting up a bubble and may need multiple cities in play in order to execute it effectively.
NHL Bubble System Working So Far
Meanwhile, the NHL has started its playoffs by using a two-city bubble system. Games are being held in both Edmonton and Toronto. The league is testing all of its players and coaches every day, which means up to 2,000 tests per day were being administered at the start of the playoffs (some teams have since been eliminated). The plan, which received approval from Ontario’s top doctor, has been successful so far, with no active cases at this time.
The NHL has been credited for its approach to COVID-19 planning. An ESPN story reports that teams were allowed to hold training camps in their home cities in order to give players the opportunity to spend time with their families before self-isolating in their designated bubble. Edmonton and Toronto were selected as host cities due to their low rates of COVID-19 in comparison with other NHL cities. The NHL is also using contactless technology to take temperatures and track the health of players and team officials. All players and personnel are required to answer health questions via an app on their phone before being admitted to facilities.
The NBA Orlando Bubble
Unlike Major League Baseball, the NBA has been in a similar position as the NHL, with a very short conclusion to the regular season before playoffs are scheduled to start next week. Like the NHL, the NBA utilized a bubble approach, sending all of its participating teams to Orlando where players, personnel, and officials are living and playing on Disney properties. There have been a few players who have broken protocol, but as of last week, there had been no positive tests amongst players in the league. If a player were to test positive, the NBA protocol states that they would be required to quarantine alone until cleared for play again.
NFL Eyes the Start of the 2020 Season
As the NFL gears up for the start of its new season, questions remain about the league’s ability to contain COVID-19. Some training camps have opened and the league has committed to holding a full season with games being played in all cities with NFL teams. A recent story in the New York Times highlights some of the challenges the NFL season is facing, including employees stating they don’t feel safe returning to work, and some players deciding to opt-out of the season altogether. League stars, including quarterbacks Patrick Mahomes, Drew Brees, and Russell Wilson have called on the league to strengthen its COVID-19 protocols.
It remains to be seen whether the NFL season will start as planned, or if hiccups will impact its timeline. But as the nights start getting cooler and fall approaches, there’s a daily reminder that the clock is ticking on being able to successfully pull off a full season of play.
Feigenbaum Law’s Mark Feigenbaum holds a US Masters of Laws degree in Entertainment, Media and Sports Law, and a Doctorate in Law focusing on the taxation of sports and entertainment professionals. This rare distinction, coupled with his industry experience, uniquely positions our firm to understand and advise on the complexities of tax issues for professional and elite athletes on both sides of the border. We provide our clients in sports and entertainment with personalized attention and detailed oversight of a number of issues. Contact us to learn how our skilled team can assist you. We can be reached online or by phone at (877) 275-4792.