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Top U.S. sports leagues, including MLB, the NBA and the NHL, are likely to resume their seasons by July or August following lengthy suspensions of play due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to Sinclair Broadcast Group CEO Chris Ripley.
“I think it’s a return this summer … July has some potential for some of these leagues to start, or maybe August.” Ripley said during an appearance in MoffettNathanson’s virtual Media & Communications Summit, according to Deadline.
Sinclair holds exclusive local rights to 42 professional sports teams, including 14 MLB franchises and 16 NBA franchises, through its ownership of the former Fox Regional Sports Networks. The cable broadcaster finalized its acquisition of the networks last summer, but has yet to rebrand them.
Ripley said his remarks were based on conversations with executives at the impacted pro sports leagues, adding that games would likely resume without fans in attendance for the foreseeable future. Sports have been at a standstill since mid-March when leagues suspended play to comply with public health guidance for the pandemic.
MLB took a key step toward a summer return Monday when owners approved a plan to resume play around Fourth of July weekend without fans in attendance. The plan, which would require approval by the MLB Players Association in order to proceed, calls for an 82-game regular season consisting of mostly divisional matchups and an expanded postseason format.
The plan calls for players to participate in a “spring” training beginning in June. In addition, all teams, not just the American League, would use a designated hitter.
Ripley said the decision to resume without fans, despite a corresponding loss of ticket revenue, was likely necessary “because most people don’t think a [COVID-19] vaccine’s going to be around until next year. Are you really going to put 30,000 people into a building when there’s no vaccine yet?”
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver told players last week that a decision on if or when to resume the 2019-20 season could come by as late as June, according to multiple reports. The NHL’s restart timeline is less clear, though league officials are preparing to hold games without fans.
The NFL released a traditional 17-week schedule for its season slate to begin this fall. Commissioner Roger Goodell said the league is “prepared” to make changes if required.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.