MLB commish Rob Manfred bullish on fans at ballparks for 2021 season

MLB commissioner Rob Manfred
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred.
REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Major League Baseball is preparing for its 2021 season with fans in attendance at the ballparks barring the approval of the city in which the team plays, commissioner Rob Manfred said on Tuesday in a video chat (h/t The Athletic’s Evan Drellich). 

“As we look forward, we will be more aggressive about having fans in ballparks, Manfred said during his virtual appearance at the 25th annual International Council Summit held by The Paley Center for Media. “There were places where we could have had fans this year, and in fact, we did have fans for the LCS and the World Series in Texas. Even though local jurisdictions had started to open up, we decided for this year that we would stay empty during the regular season.”

Major League Baseball opened its 2020 season in July amidst dwindling COVID-19 numbers after months of fruitless negotiations between the players and league owners. 

While cities across the nation began slowly re-opening businesses and easing restrictions, MLB’s decision to keep fans out of the stadium likely avoided further difficulties that came with a difficult opening week. 

Massive outbreaks amongst the Miami Marlins during the first games of the season sparked a tense summer that saw 16 teams impacted by the virus and 43 games postponed. Stadiums filled with fans could have made the outbreaks that much worse. 

Still, the league went nearly two months without a positive case during the final stretch of the season and postseason, which made the decision to allow fans at Globe Life Field in Arlington, TX that much easier. For each of the LCS and World Series games, a maximum of 11,500 spectators were admitted entry into the ballpark. 

The Los Angeles Dodgers’ triumph over the Tampa Bay Rays provided a promising end to a season that packed a sizable financial punch — for all the wrong reasons — for teams that didn’t have fans in seats for a year. Per previous reports, MLB and its teams collectively lost out on $3.1 billion in 2020.

It has set up an offseason in which a majority of the teams are looking to shed salary and sell top players rather than buy them. For that main reason, Manfred is bullish on getting fans back out to the ballpark.

“I don’t think that’s a tenable position for us going forward. We’re going to have to allow the clubs to operate safely,” Manfred said. “We’re obviously going to have league-wide protocols. If local public health authorities allow for fans, I think you’re going to see fans in the ballpark next year.”

“Now, will it be full stadiums? I kind of doubt that. But we do think it’s important and it’s why we did it in the World Series and LCS: to get people accustomed to the idea that you can go to these live events with appropriate protocols, pods of people, social distancing, masks, and do it safely.”

Opening Day for the 2021 season is scheduled for April 1.