The chances of Yankee Stadium and Citi Field hosting games this summer got a big boost Monday when Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said he has encouraged professional sports to plan to return to play without fans.
That public backing came even as New York City and its suburbs — where most of the state’s major professional sports teams operate — are still working toward meeting the criteria for Phase One reopening.
But, as Cuomo explained it, he wants to help make sports happen anyway.
“Hockey, basketball, baseball, football, whoever can reopen,” Cuomo said during his daily coronavirus pandemic news briefing. “We’re a ready, willing and able partner. Remember, government rules right now could stop a team from coming back. What’s essential? What’s not essential? I’m saying the state will work with them to come back.”
Cuomo cracked that he is especially interested in watching the Buffalo Bills, the only NFL team that plays in New York State. But he wasn’t letting that fandom influence this decision.
“This is in the best interest of all the people and in the best interest of the state of New York,” Cuomo said. “Even though I do have a coincident personal agenda. Because I do want to watch the Bills. But they are separate agendas.”
Joining New York in its welcoming of sports on Monday were California and Texas, which combine to host seven MLB teams.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom said it is possible pro sports could "begin to move forward" without fans and with modifications and "very prescriptive conditions" in the first week or so of June if the state can "hold these trendlines in the next number of weeks." In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott said pro sports, without fans, can return May 31.
Last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gave a similar OK, opening the door to any team wanting to take up temporary residence in Florida if their home state wouldn’t let them operate.
In practice, Cuomo’s open-mindedness to athletics means the most to baseball, which is aiming to restart spring training by mid-June and begin an 82-game season played mostly in teams’ home stadiums without fans by early July — at which point New York City might have cleared the threshold for a Phase One reopening anyway. The MLS’ New York City FC, which plays its home games at Yankee Stadium, also would benefit by New York’s sports reopening.
It seems unlikely that the Knicks, Nets, Rangers and Islanders play more home games, even if their leagues finish their 2019-20 seasons. The NBA is considering going to one centralized hub — say, Disney World in Orlando — while the NHL is looking at a similar setup in a couple of locations.
The Bills and Sabres are good to go in Buffalo. Western New York got the OK to begin reopening Tuesday.
Cuomo’s advisory board to reopen New York, created in late April, included several sports teams owners/bosses: Yankees president Randy Levine, Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon, Knicks and Rangers owner James Dolan, Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky and Bills and Sabres president Kim Pegula.
The governor’s approval alone does not clear the way for baseball’s return in the state. The greater problem is the economics, which Cuomo alluded to and which MLB and the players’ union are discussing as part of their negotiations of the details of their hoped-for season.
With no fans present, MLB teams would be missing about 40% of their revenue. So owners want players, who already agreed to prorate their salaries (resulting in an approximately 50% cut under the current proposed schedule), to accept further pay cuts.
That dynamic became public a month ago when Cuomo mentioned it after a conversation with Wilpon.
“If they can make the numbers work, I say great. Come back,” Cuomo said Monday. “They have to make their own economic decision, whether that economic model works for them. They have to make that decision, but any way we can help we would help. And then they’ll be up and running, and then when we can fill a stadium again we can fill a stadium.”
Cuomo did not answer a question about when fans might be able to watch games in person, but did say, “Why wait until you can fill a stadium before you start to bring the team back?”
As busy as Cuomo the governor has been, Cuomo the sports fan is bored.
“I’m watching reruns right now of the old, classic games and that’s fun,” Cuomo said. “But I’d rather watch current sports on TV. If it works.”