What we’re about to say is gonna sound weird, but hear us out: Major League Baseball should be paying very close attention to the WWE right now as it continues to plot a potential return to play amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Like just about every other sport on the planet, MLB is stuck in a COVID-19 neutral right now. Its 2020 season has yet to begin and it may never start. But baseball is a nearly $11 billion business, and no matter how dire or gloomy the projections might seem, the league has to operate like it will play baseball at some point this year.
Assuming approval from smart people, the top priority of MLB in 2020 should be to play as much baseball as possible. Depending on who you ask, a full cancellation of the season is very much on the table and might be likely. But in a perfect (adjusted, perhaps socially distanced) world, you play as many games as possible in an attempt to make as much money as possible. This is also a unique situation in that everyone is in the same boat: players, owners, TV networks, corporate partners, etc. No one has been, pardon the pun, immune to the coronavirus outbreak.
One “league” that is still operating to some capacity amid all this is the WWE. It’s a controversial decision, but Vince McMahon has quite literally gone on with the show (despite a positive COVID-19 case) and a ruling Monday in Florida deeming the WWE an “essential business” will only continue to allow McMahon to put on his events — albeit in front of a crowdless room at the WWE’s performance center.
The coronavirus forced McMahon and the WWE to get creative and step outside its comfort zone regarding its marquee event of the year: WrestleMania. Originally scheduled to go on in front of 65,000 people from all over the world at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, WWE made the unprecedented decision to move WrestleMania to the performance center.
And in the process, WWE did something smart — it adapted and even evolved on the fly. One complaint from many fans about WrestleMania is that it’s simply too long, running six or seven hours on a Sunday night in the spring. This year, however, WWE broke up the show over two nights. The promotion also took chances with how it presented the show’s matches. On each night, the WWE featured a match that was shot more like a movie, and it was met with overwhelmingly positive reviews.
So, what can MLB learn from pro wrestling? ESPN’s Jeff Passan on Tuesday reported the league is thinking of innovative ways to package its product if and when the season resumes. There’s not much the league can do at the moment in terms of getting business up and running, at least not until it gets the green light from health officials. So, as Passan notes, the league is contemplating potential changes.
“What Major League Baseball is doing in some places is putting its resources behind how to make the game better if and when it comes back,” Passan said Tuesday morning on ESPN. “We have to recognize these games are probably going to be played in empty stadiums. what they’re asking at Major League Baseball right now is ‘How do we take advantage of these empty stadiums to make for a better product on television? Where can we put cameras? What can we do, for example, with extra innings?'”
This is a big step for the notoriously conservative MLB. They should follow WWE’s lead and try to make the most out of an uncomfortable situation. They should explore new possibilities regarding not only how they present the game on TV but how they can fundamentally improve the sport itself. ESPN mic’d up players for innings at a time in spring training, and it was well-received. That has to be on the table, but so should something like a home run derby to settle extra-inning games or embracing seven-inning contests where necessary.
If there’s a 2020 season, it already was going to look different. Playing in front of empty stadiums seems like the expectation at this point. Might as well go all-in, at this point.
These changes are going to be weird and potentially difficult for traditionalists to accept. But if even the notoriously conservative McMahon can even begrudgingly accept change, then baseball should be able too. This is an unprecedented situation that probably is going to dictate some level of ingenuity anyway. Might as well embrace it, especially considering nothing is guaranteed anyway.