WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump met by phone with many U.S. pro sports leaders Saturday to discuss how that industry has been affected by the global coronavirus pandemic, saying he was looking forward to the resumption of competitions “as soon as we can.”
“I want fans back in the arenas,” Trump said later in a briefing at the White House. “I think it’s ... whenever we’re ready. As soon as we can, obviously. And the fans want to be back, too. They want to see basketball and baseball and football and hockey. They want to see their sports. They want to go out onto the golf courses and breathe nice, clean, beautiful fresh air.”
A person with direct knowledge of what was discussed on the call said Trump believes the NFL season — scheduled to begin Sept. 10 — will start on time with fans in seats. But that seemed too optimistic for California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who was asked if he thought the NFL season would start on time.
“I’m not anticipating that happening in this state,” said Newsom, whose state has three NFL franchises.
The NBA, NHL, NFL and Major League Baseball were all represented on the call by their commissioners — Adam Silver, Gary Bettman, Roger Goodell and Rob Manfred, respectively. None of the leagues released any immediate public comment about the call.
A second person with knowledge of the call said that some commissioners, Silver among them, stressed to Trump that they are working on multiple plans to resume their seasons but cautioned that none of those plans can be enacted without clearance from public health officials. The people spoke to AP on condition of anonymity because no discussion points from the call were to be revealed publicly.
Others on the call included PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan, Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Roger Penske, UFC President Dana White, World Wrestling Entertainment owner Vince McMahon, MLS Commissioner Don Garber, WNBA Commissioner Cathy Englebert, LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan and Breeders’ Cup President Drew Fleming.
National Women's Soccer League Commissioner Lisa Baird was not included in the call, and that league was not pleased. “As a leader in women’s professional sports, the NWSL would welcome the chance to participate in any future discussions between the top sports leagues in the U.S. and the White House," the league said.
Trump addressed Little League players on Saturday, tweeting to tell them, “hang in there! We will get you back out on the fields, and know that you will be playing baseball soon. We will get through this together, and bats will be swinging before you know it."
Trump said the need for social distancing is affecting his 14-year-old son, Barron. The president described his son as a good athlete and soccer fan.
“We have to get back,” Trump said. “We have to get back. Remember that. We have to get back and we have to get back soon.”
The NBA was the first of the major U.S. sports leagues to shut down on March 11, doing so after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the COVID-19 virus. Other leagues quickly followed, and hundreds of games have already been lost. The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments were canceled along with virtually every other college athletic event for the remainder of the academic year; major events like the Masters Tournament, the Kentucky Derby and the Indianapolis 500 have been postponed; and thousands of arena employees have lost work because of the shutdown of the sports and entertainment industries.
NASCAR gave teams a tentative schedule to resume racing on May 24 with the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. North Carolina’s stay-at-home order is through April 30. The next race on NASCAR’s schedule is May 9 at Martinsville Speedway in Virginia, which is under a stay-at-home order through June 10. NASCAR has so far declined to publicly address the schedule and said it had no comment on the call with Trump.
Penske, who also owns Indianapolis Motor Speedway, told AP “nothing to report” after the call with Trump. He suspended the IndyCar season 48 hours before the opening race and the next publicly scheduled event is May 30 at Detroit, a doubleheader Penske has said can be moved to later in the season if necessary.
Penske has already rescheduled the Indianapolis 500 for the first time in history to Aug. 23 from Memorial Day weekend.
AP Auto Racing Writer Jenna Fryer in Charlotte, North Carolina, and AP Pro Football Writer Rob Maaddi in Philadelphia contributed to this report.