Rob Manfred: MLB Will Have 'Historic' Levels of Debt After COVID-Affected Season

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistOctober 27, 2020

FILE - In this Feb. 6, 2020, file photo, Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred answers questions at a press conference during baseball owners meetings in Orlando, Fla. Manfred tells The Associated Press that the commissioner's office, teams and the players' association
John Raoux/Associated Press

Having no fans in ballparks during the 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic had a "historic" impact on Major League Baseball's finances, according to commissioner Rob Manfred.

"We are going to be at historic high levels of debt," Manfred told Barry M. Bloom of Sportico. "And it's going to be difficult for the industry to weather another year where we don't have fans in the ballpark and have other limitations on how much we can't play and how we can play."

Manfred said the league will post $2.8 billion to $3 billion in operational losses this year as a result.

Like so much else in the sports world, baseball was directly impacted by these unprecedented times.

There was a lengthy delay to the start of the season because of the virus and negotiations between the league and its union about how to handle issues such as contracts and rule changes during a shortened season.

The season eventually began and was shortened from 162 games per team to a mere 60. While games were played in home ballparks rather than the bubble-like environments the NBA and NHL used, the fact that there were no fans and thousands of fewer games across the league led to the financial issues.

Still, by having a season, things such as television contracts at least came into play, and Manfred praised the overall efforts to make any season happen at all.

"The players worked hard and really sacrificed," he said. "The club people have been great. My staff has done a phenomenal job. The [players'] union has really helped. When you get that kind of cooperation you really have to feel good about it."

It remains to be seen just how much of an impact the financial issues will have on the league as the offseason approaches, but it isn't difficult to envision free agents receiving smaller deals and less overall interest in fringe players as teams worry about their uncertain bottom lines.

There is also the reality that the entire league's long-term financial future is not set since the current collective bargaining agreement expires in December 2021.