Drew Fleming, president and CEO of the Breeders' Cup, was one of a dozen major league and sports executives discussing the coronavirus shutdown on a Saturday conference call with President Donald Trump. During the call, according to published reports, Trump stated his desire for stadiums to be filled with fans as early as August and for the National Football League season to start on time this September.
The press pool report of the call reads: “Today, President Donald J. Trump spoke by telephone with commissioners of major league sports to discuss the all-of-America response to COVID-19. 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. The commissioners thanked President Trump for his national leadership and for his interest in the sports industry. President Trump encouraged them to continue to support their fellow Americans during this challenging time.”
According to reports, Trump spoke at the beginning of the hour-plus call, stating the importance of sport in American life. “It's a passion, it's who we are,” Trump told the sports executives.
Trump then gave each representative a chance to share his or her perspective on their sport. Fleming pointed out that horse racing is uniquely positioned because it has equine athletes who need daily care and attention, whether or not live racing is being conducted. He also said racing has demonstrated that, with proper safety protocols, the sport can continue without spectators on-site. Other sports have discussed the possibility of spectator-free games until the coronavirus pandemic is under control.
Later Saturday, during his daily Coronavirus Task Force briefing, Trump backed away from a firm commitment that the NFL would begin its season on time.
“I want fans back in the arenas as soon as we can,” said Trump, though he would not commit to a specific time frame. “We have to get back and we have to get back soon, okay?”
Horse racing's biggest event, the Kentucky Derby in Louisville, Ky., has been postponed from May 2 until Sept. 5, the same week as the traditional opening of the NFL season. The Breeders' Cup, to be held at Keeneland in Lexington, Ky., is scheduled for Nov. 6-7. Two of racing's biggest meets, Saratoga and Del Mar, begin in mid-July and run until early September.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who also held a coronavirus briefing Saturday afternoon, was less optimistic than Trump about the NFL season starting on time. “I'm not anticipating that happening in this state,” Newsom said, citing what he called a “boomerang effect” in Asia when businesses reopened and the coronavirus returned.
“Our decision on that basis,” Newsom said, “at least here in the state of California, will be determined by the facts, will be determined by the health experts, will be determined by our capacity to meet this moment, bend the curve, and have the appropriate community surveillance and testing to confidently determine whether or not that's appropriate,”
Trump was joined on the call by presidential advisers Kellyanne Conway and Andrew Giuliani but no health or infectious disease experts.
Sports participants on the call were:
Gary Bettman, Commissioner of the National Hockey League
Cathy Engelbert, Commissioner of the Women's National Basketball Association
Drew Fleming, President and CEO of the Breeders Cup
Don Garber, Commissioner of Major League Soccer
Roger Goodell, Commissioner of the National Football League
Rob Manfred, Commissioner of Major League Baseball
Vince McMahon, President of the WWE
Jay Monahan, Commissioner of the PGA Tour
Roger Penske, IndyCar
Adam Silver, Commissioner of the National Basketball Association
Michael Whan, Commissioner of the LPGA Tour
Dana White, Ultimate Fighting Championship
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