On Aug. 12, 1994, Major League Baseball players went on strike, and fans sat on pins and needles for the next few weeks while waiting for negotiations between players and owners to reach a successful conclusion.
But as August slipped into September, it became evident that the two sides were far apart and were resisting substantive talks, and the future of the season hung in the balance.
As a result, fans felt a sense of dread as the weeks dragged on, and their worst fears were confirmed on Sept. 14, when Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig pulled the plug on the 1994 season, canceling the playoffs and World Series, thereby leaving no champion for the first time in 90 years. That was a dark day in the sport’s history.
Just 10 years later, a similar turn of events happened to the NHL. The players’ union and owners couldn’t agree on the implementation of a salary cap, and the start of the 2004-05 season was delayed because the owners shut down training camps in the hopes that the two sides could continue to negotiate and reach an agreement that would be beneficial to both sides.
Again, hockey fans waited in dismay as the months unfolded, and the day that they hoped wouldn’t come — Feb. 16, 2005 — dawned and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced that there would be no hockey for the 2004-05 season.
Both of those lost seasons were devastating for the leagues and their fans, but at least sports enthusiasts had other sports to fall back on in the vacuums created by the MLB strike and the NHL lockout.
That is not the case right now.
No pro sports are taking place, but it’s not player and owner egos preventing teams from resuming, or in some cases, beginning their seasons. It’s that invisible aerosol bandit that is shutting down sports, as well as numerous other staples of humans’ existence.
While we are likely at, or near, the apex of the coronavirus pandemic in the US, sports fans are still optimistic that things will return to normal relatively quickly, and that the NHL, NBA, and MLS can resume play, MLB can open its season (albeit with a shortened schedule), and the NFL will carry on as usual as it prepares for its fall debut.
But what if they don’t, God forbid?
I don’t mean to be a harbinger of doom, but even though fans are “hopeful” and being led to believe that this thing will blow over in the coming months, who with any certainty can assure us that this will come to pass, given the novelty of this worldwide situation?
What if the worst-case situation were to play out, and there would be no pro hockey, basketball, baseball, golf, tennis, soccer, or (gasp!) football played in the spring, summer, and fall of 2020? Are you not like I am — dreading the individual announcements, one by one, that sports leagues are being shut down for good this calendar year?
First of all, I hope that I’m dreadfully wrong, but to me, it seems like the next hammer to fall sports-wise will be the cancellation of all high school spring sports, and this would be devastating to participants throughout the area and the country, especially for the seniors.
But what are the other consequences on a state and national level, if pro sports don’t resume, as we were optimistically led to believe they would?
From a purely business standpoint, the ramifications for the local pro teams would be significant. According to the Boston Globe, the Red Sox will lose $32.8M for each month that they don’t play, and they’ve already been shut down until at least mid-May (after losing 40 percent of their spring-training games). Meanwhile, the NBA’s Celtics will suffer a $13.3M loss if their season (80% complete) doesn’t resume, and the NHL’s Bruins (90% done) would be set back $13.4M.
And since both teams were well-positioned for perhaps lengthy playoff runs, all that postseason money would also go poof.
(It’s worth noting that the ice at Boston’s TD Garden has already been melted, presumably because miserly team owner Jeremy Jacobs saves money by not maintaining the frigid temps underneath the wooden boards upon which the Celtics’ parquet sits.)
Major League Soccer only played two games before its season shut down, and the Revolution would forfeit $2.2M in gate receipts each month as long as the season is in limbo. This is significant money for the franchise, even if its season resumes in front of empty stadiums (which I consider a long shot for any league), because MLS TV money is not remotely close to that of the other sports. Game-day attendance accounts for 40 percent of MLS revenues, compared to the NHL (36%), MLB (30%), NBA (22%), and the NFL (just 15%), according to the Globe.
Bruins fans would be particularly distraught if the NHL season didn’t resume because last year’s Stanley Cup runners-up currently sport the league’s best record, but at least the B’s still have the memories of the 2011 Cup and two other Cup Final appearances since.
I feel particularly sorry for the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks, who are arguably the best team in the league right now, but wouldn’t get to finish the job and nab their first title since 1971 if the league shuttered without a conclusion.
That situation would hearken back to the aforementioned 1994 baseball debacle. At the time the players went on strike, the Montreal Expos were the majors’ best team, at 74-40. The 25-year-old franchise was a talent-laden powerhouse that season, and would have been playing for only its second playoff berth in team history, and likely could have won it all if not for the game’s shutdown. The team’s owners then depleted the roster in 1995, and the Expos never got close again, and eventually moved to DC in 2005 to become the Nationals.
Celtics fans have been pleasantly surprised by their team’s performance to this point, but they’ll always wonder what could have been if the NBA does not play another game this season.
Shutting down baseball for a whole year would be uncharted territory, however.
Maybe the Red Sox, with their disastrous off-season, might benefit from a delayed start (or none at all), but even fans who have wandered away from the game over the years would have to admit that they’d miss it if it weren’t played at all. After all, it’s just a part of the fabric of summer, and the loss of baseball, along with (presumably) the ability to go to concerts, movies, restaurants, and even beaches, would make for a summer of emptiness and depression for New Englanders. That’s why I hope I’m wrong about the long-term effects of the pandemic.
Oh, and there’s one more thing that local fans probably haven’t thought about.
This is the Pawtucket Red Sox’ final season at McCoy Stadium, after 50 seasons.
Because of Curt Schilling and, of course, corporate greed, the beloved franchise is moving to a new stadium in Worcester for the 2021 season, never to return to the Ocean State.
The PawSox are scheduled to open on April 9, but there is no chance of that happening, and the longer the national shutdown continues, the more precious games that the team and its fans will lose in their final season. Pawtucket is scheduled for 70 home games, but if baseball doesn’t resume this season, it will mark an ignominious end to a once-proud organization.
The only hope for the PawSox and their fans is if, because of the potential freeze of construction state-wide, that the 2021 “WooSox” won’t have their stadium ready in time, and the team will be forced to return to Pawtucket for at least a portion of one more season at McCoy.
I sincerely hope the sports landscape gets back to normal soon, because being in the sports publishing business these days often finds us grasping at straws for content, much less good news.
But things won’t be viewed as normal again until nearly every US state’s governor gives the all-clear, and frankly, I wouldn’t count on that happening anytime soon.
And nor should any sports fan, difficult as that prospect may seem.