Pandemic on First: COVID-19 and the Impact on the Atlanta Braves

suntrust park opening day 2017

The year is 1918. A rare and misunderstood strand of the flu is running rampant, eventually wiping out 50 million people around the world; 675,000 American citizens among the unlucky 50 million. One-third of the world became exposed, stirring belief that the end is coming. You may know it as the Spanish Flu.

Fast forward to 1957. A new strand of flu was uncovered in Eastern Asia, eventually claiming the lives of 1.1 million in a matter of one year.

10 years later, we see another “end of the world” virus, as H3N2 emerged in our great country, taking another 1 million innocent people with it worldwide.

Barely 10 years ago, the strongest H1N1 strand we’ve seen made its way around the globe, baffling medical professionals with its seeming immunity to all medications and its rip-roaring strength. To this day, we see its effects on our people, seeing 12,000-61,000 deaths yearly at the hands of the virus.

Now let’s talk about 2020. There’s a new bad boy in town, spreading at an alarming rate and catching everyone’s attention.

Pandemic #5

I never thought I would live to see the day.

Actually, I kind of did; I was already alive to see another small one; I just didn’t think I would be young enough to see two in one lifetime.

Recently, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic; the first pandemic since the infamous H1N1 outbreak of 2009. With over a million cases worldwide and 10,000 reported deaths in the United States alone, COVID-19 is halting our very way of life, keeping everyone on the high alert and driving people into survival mode.

The virus is affecting every corner of the globe in astronomical ways. Schools are closing down, countries are shutting their borders and stores are running out of basic supplies, causing shortages of items, such as disinfectant wipes, antibacterial soap and, the big one that I just don’t understand, toilet paper.

I just don’t get it. Why toiler paper? What’s that going to do? Were people just not using it before? Gross.

And our beloved athletes are seeing their seasons come to a grinding halt.

Where did it start?

The first notice of COVID-19 came at the beginning of a new decade. Mid-January saw the outbreak in Wuhan, China, leaving people a tad confused but not entirely phased, as it seems it was staying put in Wuhan.

Fast forward not even two months, and we’re seeing our second global pandemic since the new century began.

In an effort to keep citizens safe, city officials are shutting down businesses bit by bit, keeping only the essential ones open and causing cities to scale back, effectively turning a majority of the US into somewhat of a ghost town.

I live in a small town in central Arkansas; roughly 23,000 citizens, give or take. I haven’t seen the town this empty in a long time, even when the local college is out for the summers. Multiple businesses are shut down, restaurants are just offering take-out or drive-thru and the only remaining places open are the two Walmarts in town (yes, there’s 2 Walmarts in my small town).

We’ve seen how it’s impacting our everyday way of life, and we have an idea of what is happening in the world of sports. But, what EXACTLY does this mean for our Atlanta teams?

Money Talks

In order to call a season “successful” in ways of finance, a home team would need to bring in more revenue than it costs to operate the stadium during the duration of the year. Baseball revenue can be found in:

  1. Stadium sales, such as retail, concessions, tickets, corporate sponsors and the like
  2. National broadcast rights and partnership with shared MLB revenue streams
  3. Local broadcasting rights

According to Forbes, In 2019, the Braves saw their finishing number sitting at a modest $438M; not as high as the $549M the Dodgers brought in, but a modest number nonetheless.

Now, keep in mind, a large number of this figure comes from recurring money; the clubhouse store is open year-round and the Battery Atlanta is always lively, with plenty of revenue coming from the local eatery and retail. Even now, as the pandemic remains, the Battery is still operating and bringing revenue in for the Braves — albeit not nearly as much.

Another hole in revenue the Braves are seeing during all of this? Ticket sales.

SunTrust park saw 2,655,100 fans during the 2019 season. An average ticket to a Braves game, also according to Forbes, is about $32. Doing simple multiplication, we get a number of 84,963,200; let’s call it $85M.

If this season ended up going by the wayside, the Braves could see a loss of a potential $85M coming from tickets alone.

Time Heals All?

Now, this ban won’t go on forever. In fact, we’re already starting to see movement in a positive direction.

This news from Passan comes a little over a week ago; he broke something even more encouraging for baseball fanatics yesterday — a plan to have players return to training camp by May, with games beginning shortly thereafter.

But, that doesn’t mean we’re out of the woods just yet. This is an ultra-complicated plan that states all 30 teams would play games without fans in the Phoenix era. It’s not perfect, but it brings baseball back and has the backing of federal health officials. Still, with no fans in attendance, this would have a considerable effect on team revenue. But for fans, it is the best-case scenario.

The Worst Time to be a Free Agent

The Braves made a slew of moves this offseason, adding a bat behind Freeman and assembling a bullpen that won’t give fans anxiety anymore. We were looking at a potential season that wouldn’t end in a 13-1 loss in the NLDS (too soon, I know; but the sentiment remains.)

Everything would’ve ended up fine and dandy if it weren’t for COVID; now, we could be looking at the most unusual free agency years we’ve ever seen.

Luckily, we’re not looking at a canceled season; but, in the event of a likely shortened one, we could see significant money for less service time than the Braves paid for.

Marcell Ozuna and Cole Hamels are earning $36M combined in 2020, all while facing a potentially shortened season. The  Braves would still get a number of games with them, but the impact would surely be felt once the $32M went off the books.

Needless to say, it’s a problem. How will it affect this upcoming free agency?

We’re looking at an upcoming class headlined by J.T Realmuto, Justin Turner, and DJ LeMahieu. With the combined shortened earnings and dead money, the potential signings of these guys remain relatively low. A whole lot can change between now and the offseason, but in a broad but true sense, a lot couldn’t. Atlanta might find themselves as sitting ducks with not enough money to spend on substantial improvements.

What Do We Do Now?

In these uncertain times, it’s easy to get stressed and stir-crazy. Especially with no sports going on.

So how do you get your fix?

MLB.com has every game of the last two seasons archived for your viewing pleasure, YouTube has a seemingly endless amount of classic games, and the Braves social media accounts are sharing constant highlights, memories and classic games. Sure, it’s not live, but if you’re like me and need a good baseball fix, these options will get you by.

Although, if you like a more interactive and immersive baseball experience, check out MLB the Show 20 on PS4. This game will allow you to get as close to the action as possible, from being your own GM, rising through the minor league ranks or managing and playing online with your own fantasy team. For all of you baseball purists, it’s the best game you can get to fill the mundanity of no sports.

And who knows? Maybe you’ll see a simulated season recap on here pretty soon!

Baseball will be back before we all know it. In the meantime, stay safe, wash your hands and remember; 6 feet apart!

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