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California governor suggests ‘months, not weeks’ before sporting events with no fans

California has created a plan for reopening the economy. It includes some information relevant to considering the return of sports in the state.

California Governor Gavin Newsom speaks in front of the hospital ship USNS Mercy that arrived into the Port of Los Angeles on Friday, March 27, 2020, to provide relief for Southland hospitals overwhelmed by the coronavirus pandemic. Photo by Carolyn Cole-Pool/Getty Images

California governor Gavin Newsom unveiled the state’s plan for reopening the economy on Tuesday, and it provides some insight into a potential timeline for sporting events to return.

The plan will operate in four stages. Stage 1 is the current stage with people either staying at home or a member of the essential workforce. Stage 2 would involve reopening lower risk workplaces, including non-essential manufacturing, schools, childcare facilities, retail businesses for curbside pick-up, and offices where remote work isn’t possible.

Moving into stage 2 would involve modifying the statewide stay-at-home order with local governments having more options based on their specific conditions. Dr. Sonia Angell, the director of the Department of Public Health, said to move toward stage 2, the state is monitoring hospitalization rates to ensure stability. They are also focusing on ensuring there’s an adequate social safety net that allows workers to stay home if they’re feeling sick. Newsom said he thinks California is “weeks, not months away” from making the move to stage 2.

Stage 3 would involve reopening higher risk workplaces that require close proximity to other people. This includes hair and nail salons, gyms, movie theaters, in-person religious services, and sporting events without live audiences. Stage 4 would bring the official end of the stay-at-home order and the reopening of concert venues and convention centers, and the return of sporting events with live audiences. Newsom said stages 3 and 4 are “months, not weeks” away.

Stage 3 would be when we start to see the real return of sports in California. That would seem to include players being able to return to their facilities to workout in preparation for returning to competition. Plural “months” could suggest late June or early July at the earliest for that stage, but this pandemic has shown how difficult it can be to impose a specific timeline.

The NFL has said club facilities will only re-open if they can re-open for all 32 teams. We don’t know how other states are operating, but California has been one of the more cautious to date. If California remains that way, this timeline suggests training camp could still start on time for teams. But again, “months” is a broad term.

For the NBA and NHL, this does not bode well for getting restarted in California. The state is home to the Sacramento Kings, Golden State Warriors, San Jose Sharks, Los Angeles Lakers, Clippers, Kings, and Sparks, and Anaheim Ducks. Both the NBA and NHL have discussed using neutral sites to restart their seasons. If they want to get things started before July, that might be the best option.

This plan leaves open the potential for MLB to still get in a partial season. Executives have suggested a restart sometime between mid-June and July 4. If they are looking at restarting in all locations, this leaves that possibility still open to some degree — with some modest adjustments.

It’s still too early to say what the specific timeline is for the return of sports across the country, but the California plan is a helpful data point.