The uncertainty over the pandemic’s scope and duration is having an impact on baseball’s off-season. There haven’t been very many trades or free-agent signings since the World Series ended the last week of October. While MLB has roughly $2 billion per year in revenue from TV rights (Fox, TBS, ESPN), it derives close to $3 billion from gate receipts (tickets, concessions, parking). A sports industry analysis company called Team Marketing Report created a data set showing truly horrific business results for 2020:
TMR annually produces what it calls the Fan Cost Index, a calculation of the average cost for a fan to attend a game for teams across sports. For the 2020 MLB season, TMR produced a data set looking at how much game-day revenue each club missed out on with the absence of fans. The projection draws from TMR’s 2020 MLB Fan Cost Index and uses what each team saw for attendance across its full 2019 slate of games to approximate the spending that didn’t happen for home games in 2020 because fans weren’t in attendance.
The result: More than $5 billion in lost revenue across the league, according to TMR’s calculations. The New York Yankees topped the list, with an estimated $437 million in game-day revenue lost compared to what the Yankees might have drawn with fans attending a traditional 81-game home schedule. The Miami Marlins were on the other end of the scale, at No 30, with $37 million in game-day revenue lost.
See the projected game-day impact for each of MLB’s 30 teams through the gallery above.
If a COVID-19 vaccine or several vaccines become available to the general public by April the season might conceivably begin with fans in the stands, but there’s no guarantee of that. There’s also no guarantee that enough of the public will actually get vaccinated, a requirement before any form of herd immunity can be assured. Failing that, baseball may start its season with cardboard cutouts in the seats again with a resulting loss of revenue.
No GM is going to commit a lot of money to a free agent pitcher without having some idea of how much money he or she is going to take in during the years of that pitcher’s contract. I wouldn’t expect a big surge in player contract signing or movement before spring training begins, or even until it’s close to ending. The US may have a better feel for how its vaccination program is proceeding by then.