President Donald Trump held a conference call with top officials from several professional sports leagues Saturday as organizations race to reschedule games and tournaments amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Participants included NBA commissioner Adam Silver, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, the White House said.
Representatives from the PGA and LPGA tours, IndyCar, Major League Soccer and professional wrestling also participated. The call didn’t include an official from the NCAA, the nonprofit organization that regulates college athletics.
“The President recognized the good work being done by many teams and players to care for their communities, workforces, and fan bases across the nation,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement. “The commissioners thanked President Trump for his national leadership and for his interest in the sports industry.”
White House officials including Kellyanne Conway and Andrew Giuliani — son of former New York mayor and presidential attorney Rudy Giuliani who serves as associate director of the White House’s public liaison office — also participated.
The coronavirus outbreak has jumbled the sports calendar, leading to the suspension of professional basketball and hockey games, a delay of baseball’s Opening Day, and the cancellation of the annual March Madness college basketball tournament and Wimbledon tennis championship.
Leagues are considering dramatic changes to their schedules, with the possibility that iconic events like the Masters golf tournament — a fixture every April — could be played in the fall.
The changes will likely cost league partners more than $1 billion in broadcast advertising revenue alone, according to ad firm Media Radar. The company estimated in a study that the NBA generated $839 million in ad revenue during its games from March through May, while the NHL earned $120 million in ad dollars for broadcasters and televised baseball banked over $60 million in advertising revenue. That’s in addition to the revenue lost from ticket sales and concession purchases at canceled games.
‘Something Very Special’
In March, Trump praised sports leagues for canceling events in some cases even before the White House issued guidance asking Americans to socially distance.
“The American people have been incredible in the way they’ve acted,” Trump told reporters at a press briefing. “And if you look at companies and sports leagues and all of the things, what they’ve done is just something very special.”
But earlier in March, Ultimate Fighting Championship President Dana White, a Trump supporter who also participated on Saturday’s call, said the president and Vice President Mike Pence advised him to “stop panicking” as other leagues canceled events.
“They’re saying be cautious, be careful, but live your life and stop panicking,” White told ESPN at the time. “Everybody is panicking and instead of panicking, we’re actually getting out there and working with doctors and health officials and the government to figure out how we keep the sport safe and continue to put on events.”