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Report: Trump hopes sports fans back at events by August, believes NFL will start on schedule

The president spoke on a conference call with major commissioners and executives. It’s unclear if his timeline is realistic amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The NFL's Roger Goodell was one of the sports commissioners who participated in a call with President Donald Trump on Saturday, April 4, 2020.
The NFL's Roger Goodell was one of the sports commissioners who participated in a call with President Donald Trump on Saturday, April 4, 2020. [ BRYNN ANDERSON | AP ]
Published Apr. 4, 2020
Updated Apr. 4, 2020

President Donald Trump told commissioners of the country’s major pro sports leagues Saturday that he hopes to have fans back in stadiums and arenas by August and September, and he believes the NFL season should start on time in September, ESPN reported.

It is unclear if medical experts find Trump’s timelines, given in a conference call, to be realistic amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Later in a briefing at the White House, Trump said, "I want fans back in the arenas. 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.”

In the conference call, Trump told the commissioners and other top sports executives that he recognizes “the good work being done by many teams and players” to care for their communities and fans dealing with the pandemic, the White House announced.

The NBA, NHL, NFL and Major League Baseball were 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.

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 Associated Press reported.

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.

Silver told those on the call that the leagues were the first to shut down because of the pandemic and that they would love to lead the way in starting the economy once there was an “all clear” from public health officials, ESPN reported.

Trump also raised the idea of the leagues working together to lobby for tax incentives that used to exist for entertainment expenses, such as the ability to deduct concessions and tickets from taxes, ESPN said. That would be a way for leagues to jump-start fans’ ability to return to stadiums in a difficult economy.

The NBA was the first major U.S. league to suspend play, on March 11, after one of its players, Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz, tested positive for the 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, and major events including the Masters golf tournament, the Kentucky Derby and the Indianapolis 500 have been postponed.

NASCAR gave teams a tentative schedule to resume racing May 24 with the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte (N.C.) 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 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 the Associated Press he had “nothing to report” after the call with Trump. He suspended the IndyCar season 48 hours before the opening race, the Firestone Grand Prix in St. Petersburg, 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, to Aug. 23 from Memorial Day weekend.