Rob Manfred says MLB owners could lose $4 billion if season is canceled, outlines testing plan

Amid a contentious stand-off with MLB players, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred appeared on CNN on Thursday to discuss the league’s outlook amid the coronavirus pandemic.

[ Coronavirus: How the sports world is responding to the pandemic ]

At one point, Manfred outlined the total financial risk he believes the league faces if the season has to be canceled. It is a very big number.

“The economic effects are devastating, frankly, for the clubs,” Manfred said. “We’re a big business, but we’re a seasonal business and, unfortunately, this crisis began at the low point for us in terms of revenue. We hadn’t quite started our season yet and if we don’t play a season, the losses for the owners could approach $4 billion.”

That number is likely made up primarily of lost gate revenues and television revenues. MLB has been working to avoid the loss of the latter as it tries to figure out a way to hold games that would at least allow the league to hit the airwaves.

How MLB wants to handle playing the season amid a pandemic

The current plan being discussed with the MLB Players Association revolves around playing a shortened season in their empty home ballparks. A key question will be if MLB can keep players safe from the coronavirus during the season, and Manfred outlined some of the details for MLB’s testing system.

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Using a Utah lab that MLB has used in the past for drug tests, Manfred said MLB would test players multiple times per week. A positive test would lead to immediate quarantine and immediate testing for anyone in contact with the player.

Players would only be allowed to return to teams with two negative tests. Manfred said the league’s lab will be able to return test results within a 24 hour span.

MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred answers questions at a press conference during MLB baseball owners meetings, Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020, in Orlando, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
MLB and its player union are figuring out a plan to return to action. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

Notably, under that plan, a positive test for a player would not seem to shut down play. Expecting players to keep playing when a teammate or recent opponent has tested positive for the coronavirus while awaiting test results might be a hard sell.

Of course, the testing proposal was apparently news to some of the players.

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Player skepticism of MLB’s plan to keep them safe has been one of MLB’s biggest obstacles in trying to start its season, and it’s understandable where players are coming from when it’s their health on the line, not Manfred or the owners.

Manfred said his office will try to convince the “vast, vast majority” of players to play, but insisted the league will never force holdout players to play. We’ll see how successful he is.

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