Major League Baseball is closing in on the final stages of a postseason bubble format as it nears completion of its season that’s been shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to people close to discussions, MLB has selected California and Texas as its two neutral locations with ballparks, including Dodger Stadium in Los Angles and Petco Park in San Diego, for postseason play. The season will end with the World Series at the Texas Rangers’ new park in Arlington, the people said.
The people who spoke to CNBC asked to remain anonymous as negotiations are still ongoing between the league and the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA).
MLB could still host the first round of the postseason in the home parks of top-seeded teams, as the league recently expanded to 16 teams for its postseason, up from 10, the people said. But after the opening round, MLB would move to bubble locations, with the Houston Astros’ Minute Maid Park and the Angels’ Stadium in Anaheim, Calif. as planned locations for those games.
The ideas call for National League teams to compete in Texas while American League clubs to play in Southern California parks, the individuals said.
Under the March 26 pandemic agreement with the MLPBA, club owners can select neutral sites for the postseason. MLB will still need approval from the players union if new health and safety protocols are added, which is likely as MLB officials have learned a lot since the season-opener on July 23, which attracted 4 million viewers.
But minor issues remain, according to one of the individuals.
Though positive Covid-19 cases have declined since MLB suffered an initial outbreak, players are still wary of being locked down in one location. The MLBPA is working with the league to determine the strictness of non-testing protocols, as teams will not be secluded similarly to the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League bubbles.
The two sides will also determine the eligibility of family members and on-site extracurricular offerings to keep players in safe environments while not playing, aiming to lower risks of an outbreak that could postpone games. MLB hopes to complete the year before the Nov. 3 presidential election, according to sources.
If the season is completed, MLB could save more than $1 billion in television revenue.
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred hinted that the league was headed for a postseason bubble during an interview with TIME magazine last month. Manfred said MLB was “far along” in its discussions to switch to a bubble after playing the regular season with teams traveling to play around the country.
“It’s a lot more workable in the postseason for us, given it would be fewer teams,” Manfred said in the Aug. 21 interview. He added that attempting to use a bubble format during the year could’ve caused a “serious problem” as logistics were too complicated.
MLB owners still need to vote on the plan, but as of now, nothing appears to be a significant hurdle to finalize postseason bubbles within the next week or sooner, one of the individuals told CNBC.
The regular-season is scheduled to conclude on Sept. 27.
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