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MLB to limit clubhouse access due to Coronavirus concerns

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Major League Baseball announced tonight that it will limit clubhouse access to the media over Coronavirus concerns. The league still intends to play out the remainder of the spring training schedule and start the regular season on time.

Here is the official statement from the league. As it notes, it’s a joint initiative with the NBA, the NHL, and Major League Soccer, each of which is doing the same thing:

The health and safety of everyone in our communities is of the utmost importance to us.  We have been engaging on an ongoing basis with a wide range of public health experts, infectious disease specialists, and governmental agencies, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), to obtain the latest information.  We are regularly conveying the guidance from these experts to Clubs, players, and staff regarding prevention, good hygiene practices and the latest recommendations related to travel.  We are continuing to monitor developments and will adjust as necessary.  While MLB recognizes the fluidity of this rapidly evolving situation, our current intention is to play Spring Training and regular season games as scheduled.

“On a temporary basis, effective on Tuesday, only players and essential personnel may enter locker rooms and clubhouses at MLB facilities.  In a joint step with other professional sports leagues, we are requiring that Clubs relocate media availabilities to another area in their facilities.  Clubs will be expected to provide best efforts in facilitating usual media coverage and access to uniformed personnel and team officials in these alternate settings.  Access for and coverage by the BBWAA and all media are vital to our game and we hope to resume normal operations as quickly as possible.  We appreciate the media’s cooperation with this temporary step, which is being taken out of an abundance of caution for the best interests of all. 

ESPN’s Jeff Passan reports that MLB will monitor local markets and will consider its options if health authorities recommend games not to be played. A potential option is for teams to play games at other locations.

Baseball players will be available in “press conference settings” as well as outside the clubhouse, but will be asked to conform to the CDC’s recommendation of keeping a six-foot distance from reporters, per Passan.

In our view, if the league really thinks Coronavirus is a big enough deal to limit media access — and it is — then it shouldn’t be scheduling games, as 35,000 fans and hundreds of vendors and stadium employees in close proximity presents a greater risk of disease transmission than does a handful of reporters in a clubhouse. The league wants to make money, though, which conflicts with doing what’s best for public health. By not cancelling spring training and regular season games (or rescheduling them), and by limiting media access, the league can both make its money and claim it is being proactive for the greater good.

As it is, in the short-term, the overall coverage of the sport will suffer. The long-term concern, already being voiced by reporters on social media, is that media access may not return to the way it was once we’ve made it through the Coronavirus pandemic. Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile, the saying goes.

Red Sox employees “livid” over team pay cut plan

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Even Drellich of The Athletic reports that the Boston Red Sox are cutting the pay of team employees. Those cuts, which began to be communicated last night, apply to all employees making $50,000 or more. They are tiered cuts, with people making $50-99,000 seeing salary cut by 20%, those making $100k-$499,000 seeing $25% cuts and those making $500,000 or more getting 30% cuts.

Drellich reported that a Red Sox employee told him that “people are livid” over the fact that those making $100K are being treated the same way as those making $500K. And, yes, that does seem to be a pretty wide spread for similar pay cuts. One would think that a team with as many analytically-oriented people on staff could perhaps break things down a bit more granularly.

Notable in all of this that the same folks who own the Red Sox — Fenway Sports Group — own Liverpool FC of the English Premier League, and that just last month Liverpool’s pay cut/employee furlough policies proved so unpopular that they led to a backlash and a subsequent reversal by the club. That came after intense criticism from Liverpool fan groups and local politicians. Sox owner John Henry must be confident that no such backlash will happen in Boston.

As we noted yesterday, The Kansas City Royals, who are not as financially successful as the Boston Red Sox, have not furloughed employees or cut pay as a result of baseball’s shutdown in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Perhaps someone in Boston could call the Royals and ask them how they managed that.