While the league maintains that health and safety are priorities for the upcoming season, the real goal is to get back to making as much money as possible as soon as possible. That means having fans in attendance for more games at a higher capacity, something that could be achieved more easily by giving the decreasing COVID-19 trends that much more time to play out.
Our daily update is published. States reported 1.4 million tests, 116k cases, 92,880 currently hospitalized, and 3,486 deaths. pic.twitter.com/rofJEWWuvb
— The COVID Tracking Project (@COVID19Tracking) February 2, 2021
Tuesday saw states report the fewest new cases since November 2 and most states are seeing a significant drop in deaths as well. That includes Arizona and Florida, the hosts of MLB’s spring training sites. Both are still considered hotbeds, though, and the overall numbers are nowhere near what would be required to allow fans back into ballparks in most places.
That was a topic in a Tuesday update from Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady, who tempered optimism with reality. Even if things continue at their current rate and likely improve with new and more readily available vaccines, it’s going to be quite some time before we get back to whatever passes for normal.
“We’re definitely making good progress here, but we are still not even below that 400-case mark and that 5 percent positivity [rate] that really mark our danger zone here in Chicago,” Dr. Arwady said. “Where I think about fans in stands, that is months away, realistically.
CHICAGO VACCINE UPDATE: Chicago is the first city to implement the Zocdoc Vaccine Scheduler, a new service that is free of charge and designed to streamline Chicago’s vaccine scheduling. #ProtectChicago https://t.co/CaEaU8aZ5x https://t.co/yWn8FCKIY3
— ChiPublicHealth (@ChiPublicHealth) February 2, 2021
Bear in mind that this isn’t Chicago mayor Lori Lightfoot or Illinois governor JB Pritzker and nothing definitive is being laid out here. However, it’s the opinion of a public health expert whose expertise will be leaned upon when it comes to determining when and how teams can have fans back again.
Just for the sake of ease, let’s say we’re looking at June 1 as the magic date at which the US reaches herd immunity. That’s unrealistic, but just go with me here. A 154-game season starting on April 29 would mean playing fewer than 30 games in empty ballparks, but a 162-game season starting in late March would see about 60 empty games. I don’t have to do the math for you to let you understand how much less revenue is being generated there.
The exact number doesn’t matter as much as the timing, so push the return-to-normalcy date back into July or August or scale it to whatever degree you like. The good news is that we can finally allow ourselves to envision a near future that sees us getting to hang out at a ballgame again. I was able to get rooftops seats to two Cubs games in 2020, including their deflating postseason exit against the Marlins, but it just wasn’t the same.
I don’t care if it means still wearing masks and spacing out in concession lines or whatever, that’ll be worth it just to be back at Wrigley to watch whatever version of the Cubs is around at that point. I’ll even buy you a beer if you’re there. Okay, not you. You, though, I’m definitely buying you one.