How devestating would it be if sports gets shut down again a few days after baseball tries to sneak in a 60 game season?
The news that 14 players and team members on the Florida Marlins have been diagnosed with COVID-19 has sent MLB officials scrambling to determine if the pandemic is simply too much to try and pitch around in 2020. With infected players having to quarantine for at least 14 days, will any other teams want to take the chance of working out of the same visitor dugout or training rooms as the Marlins? And what if other teams start showing symptons and dealing with outbreaks?
This is the worst case scenario sports broadcasters feared. The immediate impact is that tonight’s Marlins home opener against the Baltimore Orioles has been cancelled due to COVID-19. Where things go from there is the big question; how can a very short schedule sustain even just one team sitting out up to a month of the season?
The only reason why MLB is even trying to salvage 2020 is the millions on the table in television revenues. Let’s face it — sports television is on its knees without regular, major league sports game coverage. Last Thursday, a day before the Jays return to game action, the highest-rated TV show on the entire Sportnet schedule was Party Poker, drawing 47,000 viewers. Networks such as TSN and Sportsnet in Canada cannot continue to carry a full bench of commentators and hosts through weeks of single-digit “classic” games repeats or “world’s strongest man” broadcasts.
Take the latest ratings. The Toronto Blue Jays season opener against Tampa Bay last Friday on Sportsnet National was, apart from newscasts, the top draw on any network in Canada. The evening game drew an overnight, estimated viewing audience of 790,000 fans. Most, 469,000, were Ontario viewers.
You’d have to go back to early March to find anything that comes close in terms of audience on Sportsnet. A Toronto at Kansas City 2016 playoff rebroadcast also airing July 24, for example, drew an estimated 8,000 viewers across nine Sportsnet national stations.
The Friday game also provided a huge lift for a shortened version of Blue Jays Central, which followed with 416,000 overnight, estimated viewers around 10 p.m. Sportsnet later picked up coverage of a San Francisco – LA Dodgers game which pulled an additional 146,000.
The same night, The Toronto Raptors played a preseason game against the Houston Rockets. TSN saw 188,000 tune in for the two-hour tilt. Earlier in the days they got an estimated 6,000 to watch CFL 2020.
Sunday it was more of the same. The second Jays vs. Tampa Bay game watched by 730,000 overnight, estimated viewers on Sportsnet National, with 361,000 of those hailing from Ontario. That afternoon game was preceeded by a 39 minute Blue Jays Central broadcast drawing 167,000. Later on Sportnet, the NBA champion Toronto Raptors took on Portland Trailblazers before an estimated 305,000 viewers.
Also Sunday, over on TSN, the biggest draw was MLS action where Toronto FC took on NYCFC before 154,000 estimated viewers.
With the Toronto Maple Leafs warming up for a resumption of NHL hockey this Saturday, there’s a danger of going from famine to feast for sports fans and broadcasters — or famine to feast and then right back to famine if COVID spread threatens games played in hub cities. Stay tuned to see if the bubble is set to burst.