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MLB teams amassed $8.3B debt amid COVID-19 rules, lack of spectators

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MLB teams amassed $8.3B debt amid COVID-19 rules, lack of spectators
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said it's "impossible to speculate" about what next season will look like after COVID-19 caused major revenue losses for the league in 2020. FIle Photo by Gary I Rothstein/UPI | License Photo

Oct. 27 (UPI) -- Major League Baseball teams have amassed a collective $8.3 billion in debt and will have up to $3 billion in operational losses this year amid the coronavirus pandemic, which has kept fans from and attending games, a top MLB official said.

Commissioner Rob Manfred talked about the "devastating losses" during an interview Monday with Sportico. The abbreviated 2020 MLB season ends this week as the Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Dodgers conclude the World Series in Arlington, Texas.

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"We are going to be at historic high levels of debt," Manfred said. "And it's going to be difficult for the industry to weather another year where we don't have fans in the ballpark and have other limitations on how much we can't play and how we can play."

All 30 MLB clubs took on debt so they could fund their businesses this season, which was hit hard by lost ticket revenue and a large decrease in games played at home ballparks due to COVID-19.

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MLB players were at spring training in March when the 2020 season was suspended due to the pandemic. The season was scheduled to begin March 26, but was postponed until July 23.

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The regular-season schedule also was downsized from 162 games to just 60 games. Fans were not allowed to attend regular-season games for any MLB team, which resulted in major revenue losses for franchises.

Close to 11,500 fan have been allowed to attend each 2020 World Series game. Game 6 starts at 8:08 p.m. EDT on Tuesday in Arlington. Game 7 -- if it's necessary -- will be played at 8:09 p.m. EDT Wednesday also will be played at Globe Life Field.

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MLB has used the facility as a neutral-site venue as a safety precaution for the pandemic. The league also used four hub cities for the American League Division Series and National League Division Series as a protective measure.

Additional COVID-19 surges also could impact the 2021 MLB season. Manfred said financial losses "have been devastating for the industry" and have led to layoffs for baseball operations personnel and other staff members throughout the league.

The revenue decline and an uncertain future also impacts teams' plans for free agency and additional personnel moves. Clubs could be unwilling to commit to large salaries for players due to the uncertainty about future revenue and losses.

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The players' and owners' collective bargaining agreement, which is used to determine many financial decisions and revenue splits for the league, expires Dec. 1, 2021.

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"I think the one thing we've learned is that COVID is a really unpredictable virus," Manfred said. "We don't know what's next. But at this point, it's just impossible to speculate what next year's going to look like. We'll just have to get closer and then we'll make the best decisions we can."

The league and players union said no players have tested positive for COVID-19 since the playoffs began in late September. Fifty-seven positive tests emerged from players and staff during the regular season.

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Miami Marlins players pose for a picture after defeating the Chicago Cubs 2-0 in the National League Wild Card Game to win their first playoff series in 17 years in Chicago on Friday. Photo by Kamil Krzaczynski/UPI | License Photo

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