Boston Mayor Marty Walsh is willing to reopen Fenway Park and TD Garden for Red Sox, Celtics, and Bruins games this summer.
That willingness, though, rests upon non-negotiable conditions: no fans in the stands, and the City of Boston must sign off on advanced health and safety protocols that protect not only the athletes but everyone else reporting to the workplace.
“Yes, as long as the players and the teams and the support staff and all the people that are associated with it are safe and feel comfortable,” said Walsh during a Friday morning telephone interview.
“Obviously, their health is important to me as well. Many of them are constituents of mine, and even if they’re not constituents of mine, I obviously want people to be healthy and safe. That’s going to be the biggest challenge that they’re going to have to figure out and meet if they’re going to move forward here.”
Walsh places sports leagues in a similar category as restaurants, entertainment businesses, office buildings, and construction projects when it comes to restarting.
Major League Baseball is trying to reach an agreement with its players on a plan to begin a shortened season in July, while the NBA and NHL are still attempting to formulate a plan on when and how to resume their seasons.
Walsh said he has not held any recent talks with the Bruins or Celtics about resuming practices or games. He has spoken with Red Sox president and CEO Sam Kennedy about baseball’s general desire to play this summer, but not with any specificity about timing.
If MLB does move forward with its plan — an agreement would likely have to be reached by the end of this month — Walsh will have to agree that its COVID-19 protocols meet the city’s own standards if games are to be played in Boston.
“We want to see the plan,” said Walsh. “We’ll have our public health experts take a look at it and make sure that they feel like everything is covered that needs to be covered moving forward here. We will treat it like every other industry in the city, same with entertainment.
"They’re personal teams and they have employees, and we want to make sure the teams and the employees are taking care of everything and looking through it all so that we can make sure if it does open it’s open in a safe way and the virus doesn’t spread.”
If the leagues do change their minds about playing in empty arenas and ballparks, Walsh made it clear that fans aren’t part of the Boston pro sports equation.
“There will be no fans in Fenway Park in July, there will be no fans in Fenway Park in August," he said. “We won’t even be near a situation where there’s herd immunity, and there certainly won’t be a vaccine.”
As long as the City of Boston’s conditions are met, Walsh is enthusiastic about seeing sports return.
“Certainly on the fan side and the psychological side, I think if baseball could come back like we’re seeing in Taiwan and South Korea, I think that that’s good for people to have a distraction,” said Walsh.
“I think sports is one aspect of that. People have different reasons for distraction, and sports is one, and I think it would help a lot people’s psyches as far as having baseball and sports back.
“I think football and I understand basketball and hockey might be having similar conversations. I would love to see them come back, personally as a sports fan, but I also know as far as having fans in the stands, for the foreseeable future that’s not happening, just because the numbers don’t allow that to happen. The number of people with cases and enough immunity out there, it’s a huge safety risk.”
Public health data will drive Walsh’s decisions on how and when Boston will reopen. And just like the fortunes of a sports team, the results keep changing.
“One thing that’s interesting about COVID-19 is that a week is a long time, and every week seems to bring different challenges and different kinds of places where we’re at,” said Walsh.
“We are having conversations about reopening, yet the majority of people have not been exposed to COVID-19. We’re opening and we have to very cautious and very careful about how we do that, whether it’s baseball or a bank.”