Baseball Could Return For Shortened Season In July, MLS In August, L.A. County Task Force Report Suggests

Patrick Hipes

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The LA County Economic Resiliency Task Force on Friday submitted a report proposing a four-phase plan to reopen venues for sports and live entertainment in the region.

The report’s timeline suggests that Major League Baseball could begin its shortened season in July, and Major League Soccer in August. If implemented, it could provide a pathway for sports and concerts to reemerge here from the stay-at-home world of the coronavirus pandemic.

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The live-venue sector plan, spearheaded by Casey Wasserman, was handed over to the L.A. County Board of Supervisors today. It would be implemented in conjunction with the state of California’s phased reopening plan, which for most jurisdictions is in Phase 2 and moving toward Phase 3.

For now, the state’s Phase 3 does not include L.A. County, which remains a COVID-19 hotspot. As of Wednesday, the region that includes L.A., Long Beach and Pasadena had 49,774 confirmed cases, and 2,241 deaths. But the report comes the same day that Los Angeles County got the all-clear from the state to reopen in-dining restaurants, barbershops and salons. (The county’s Economic Resiliency Task Force, comprised of 40 experts representing several economic sectors, helped design those guidelines, as well.)

With Los Angeles County “anticipated” to move to Phase 3 “imminently,” “Los Angeles-based sports leagues, venues, and live event operators must be prepared to reopen as soon as they receive the green light from the County,” the task force report says.

Neither MLB nor MLS have announced plans for their seasons. The 2020 baseball season was supposed to start March 26, while MLS suspended its season March 12, as all other pro sports in the U.S. and globally were shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic. So too were music venues; Los Angeles’ Hollywood Bowl and the Greek Theater had to scrap their summer seasons earlier this month.

The task force timeline also shows the NHL and NBA regular seasons beginning in October/November/December at Staples Center the NHL finalized plans to return but the NBA has not. The NFL season is already scheduled to start in September with games at the Los Angeles Rams’ and Chargers’ new home at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood.

The plan walks through the implementation of five phases in reopening venues: Phase 1 – Training and Facilities, which some leagues are already underway on; Phase 2 – Spectator-Less Events; Phase 3 – Limited Capacity; and Phase 4 – Return to Full Capacity. There were no timelines attached, but the report said Phase 1 and Phase 2 are “where we are today.”

Each of the first two phases has its own action plan proposed by the task force (read the report here), which includes best practice recommendations for players and staff and media, as well as for sanitation, food & beverage, deliveries, and parking. Only the first two phases are detailed in the report.

The task force sited four guiding principles in formulating the reopening plan: hold health of staff and customers as paramount priority; collaborate closely with city, county & state leadership; reduce unemployment and boost consumer activity; plan early and ahead to allow for swift ramp up.

Dodger Stadium is one of several venues in the county that would come under the reopening plan, a list that includes fellow iconic venues like the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, the L.A. Memorial Coliseum, Hollywood Bowl and the Greek, along with MLS venues Banc of America Stadium near USC and Dignity Health Sports Park in Carson. Other venues include Santa Anita Park, The Forum, the Microsoft Theater and Fairplex Pomona.

On Tuesday, the city’s largest coronavirus testing site opened at Dodger Stadium. The venue and the Dodgers’ spring-training home in Arizona both also began admitting players for restricted training this week.

“The County is home to the most sports teams, venues and universities in the State, and this reopening will put us on a path to putting tens of thousands of County residents back to work and restoring dignity and normalcy to countless lives and livelihoods,” Wasserman said in a letter accompanying the 26-page report. “Greater still, these plans provide the scaffolding to begin to restore the communal and rehabilitative joy generated by the crack of a bat, a sprinting score, and the magic of live music.”