Major League Baseball (MLB) announced their plans for the 2021-22 season in an official statement released on Feb. 1, which further explained their decision to proceed with no delays despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
“In light of the (MLB Players Association’s) rejection of our proposal, and their refusal to counter our revised offer this afternoon, we are moving forward and instructing our Clubs to report for an on-time start to Spring Training and the Championship Season,” the MLB said.
The MLBPA, who rejected the MLB’s proposal, cited a lack of “salary or service time protections,” signifying that their rejection was due to concerns over how it would have affected players’ finances in the future. As a result of the rejection, the season will begin approximately a month earlier than the date targeted in the MLB’s proposal, prompting concern over how the MLB plans to safely transition fans back into stadiums without a widely distributed COVID-19 vaccine available.
As part of their COVID-19 protocol, the MLB will not require proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 tests from fans. Instead, they will delegate the role of implementing safety measures to the teams, which includes checking the temperature of fans upon arrival. The league is also expected to mandate socially distanced “pods” that maintain at least 6 feet of distance between the fans. However, that could easily change depending on whether state and local authorities decide to enforce it.
Additional measures include mandatory mask-wearing — outside of eating and drinking — and the distribution of multiple hand-washing stations across all stadiums. While these steps indicate that the MLB is preparing for renewed fan attendance, professional sporting event restrictions vary from state to state. This takes some of the control out of the league’s hands.
Aside from health and safety measures, some of last season’s game related changes will be discontinued. This includes the expanded postseason, a popular measure that allowed six additional teams to compete in the 2020 playoffs. This season will function similarly to the 2019 season, with many of the rules being reversed to what they were pre-COVID in terms of scheduling and how the games are officiated.
From a revenue standpoint, the MLB is expected to lose hundreds of millions of dollars in 2021 due to a lack of ticket sales. Although the MLB is doing everything it can to promote fans attending games, there is not enough interest to make up for the revenue losses of last season or to meet current projections. With ticket sales accounting for nearly 30% of their annual revenue, the league will likely struggle financially for a second straight season.
With spring training games set to begin on Feb. 28 and opening day scheduled for April 1, the MLB is anxious to get their fans back into the stands to make up for the revenue losses incurred last season. If they can manage to do that while minimizing the overall health risk, this season will be a resounding success.