Chicago pro sports teams hope for best, prepare for worst
Bears president Ted Phillips, Bulls counterpart Michael Reinsdorf and Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts were the guest speakers at the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce's annual meeting late last week.
It was held on video, for the first time in 116 years.
"If we've learned anything the past three months, it's expect the unexpected, right?" Phillips said.
That is exactly right.
The coronavirus pandemic has impacted everything and anything, and professional sports are taking a massive hit.
Keeping it local, the Bulls are done for the season as the NBA tries to start back with the 22 teams that had the best records when play was halted on March 11.
Ideally, basketball returns on July 31, but that could be a problem.
The end of the regular season and playoffs are tentatively scheduled to be played at the Walt Disney Resort in Orlando, but Florida is currently dealing with a surge of COVID-19 cases that is worrisome to the NBA and players.
The NHL is also trying to get back on the ice in late July after approving a 24-team modified playoff format that includes the Blackhawks.
Teams are expected to be split between two hub cities, and Chicago and the United Center have been mentioned as a possible location.
Major-league baseball hopes to play an abbreviated season, but owners and players are still squabbling over money and now they're dealing with a coronavirus outbreak that has shut down all spring training complexes in Florida and Arizona.
If the two sides do reach a deal, the Cubs and White Sox would both hold a second "spring training" in Chicago, at Wrigley Field and Guaranteed Rate Field.
The NFL's season isn't scheduled to kick off until Sept. 10, so there is still time to monitor COVID-19's spread.
Like Ricketts and Reinsdorf, Phillips is dealing with the unexpected and hoping for the best.
"We're still extremely hopeful, confident, that we're going to have a season with fans," Phillips said.
The Bears are also prepared to go forward with a season played in empty stadiums, as are the Cubs, White Sox, Blackhawks and, farther down the road, the Bulls.
"You talk to the players, and they play because they love the game," Reinsdorf said. "Obviously, the money's important for all kinds of reasons. But what drives these guys is they are playing in front of 20,000 at the United Center, 40,000 at Wrigley Field or 60,000 at Soldier Field. The fans are able to generate energy and there's nothing like it."
What if games are played with no fans in the stands for the foreseeable future?
"I think we're all going to learn from each other," Reinsdorf said. "At the end of the day, it would be unfortunate if we're not going to have fans at our games. But I think (commissioner) Adam Silver likes to say 99% of the NBA's fans don't actually go to games. We're going to have to figure out how to recreate that excitement for people that are watching games on TV."
As Phillips said, pro teams have to be ready to react to any scenario. Returning to the old normal is the obvious goal.
"Almost all of our revenue comes from hosting games at the ballpark, tickets, concessions, everything that goes with that," Ricketts said. "So it makes for a complicated financial situation for us. We're going to work as hard as we can with the city and move as quickly as we can within the realms of good practices to try to get people back in the park.
"But until then we have to make sure that when we're back on the field, we can create a great game production that brings the game to the fans in their homes. Hopefully, that will get us through a few weeks while we work through the issues of some day soon getting fans back in the ballpark."