Reports: MLB to begin 2021 on time, allow limited number of fans originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington
Major League Baseball reportedly informed teams Monday that they should expect to start spring training on time and prepare for a full 162-game campaign. The league also outlined guidelines for letting fans into games, not requiring vaccination checks or negative test results but enforcing social-distancing guidelines and other spread-prevention measures.
USA TODAY’s Bob Nightengale reported Monday that the Major League Baseball Players Association “vigorously” fought against playing anything less than a full season. The two sides bickered back and forth for weeks last spring trying to negotiate the framework for the 2020 season in a spat that spilled into the public sphere. While such a display has managed to stay behind closed doors, the MLBPA wasn’t budging in its demand for full pay after accepting prorated salaries last year.
Fans will be allowed to attend games this season with teams required to spread them out using “pod” seating where groups are separated from one another by at least six feet, Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times reported Monday night. Fans will have to wear a mask everywhere but their seats, hand-washing stations must be widely accessible and lines to get into the ballpark will abide by social distancing.
MLB opened up the neutral site Globe Life Field, home of the Texas Rangers, for limited attendance at the National League Championship Series and World Series. Between 10,000 and 12,000 fans attended each of the 13 games between those two series.
Manfred said in October that MLB suffered $3 billion in operating losses last season, a significant chunk of which was attributed to the lack of fan attendance.
Teams have navigated this winter with those losses in mind, with clubs cutting back on spending even after some made the playoffs. Free agency has moved slower than ever, a point of contention for the MLBPA in years past that will be key to negotiations for the new Collective Bargaining Agreement after the current one expires at the end of the season.
The league introduced a variety of rule changes in 2020 including seven-inning doubleheaders, universal DH, automatic runner on second in extra innings, expanded rosters and a larger playoff format. While there’s been no indication from MLB that those changes will carry over into this year, it's still possible that an agreement is reached between the league and union to keep some of the rules in place.