Rising Covid-19 numbers in the U.S. may yet jeopardize the return of major North American professional sports, warns Fitch Ratings.
In a new report, the rating agency said that despite leagues’ preparations to get play back underway, the prevailing risks to the health and safety of both players and staff could disrupt restart plans.
Currently, Major League Baseball is planning to start its season on July 23, and the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League are aiming to resume their seasons in late July.
The National Football League (NFL) is planning to start its season on September 10.
“However, the ability to hold virus-free training camps and pre-season games may determine if the season starts as planned and if fans are permitted in stadiums,” Fitch said.
Indeed, the report noted that leagues are expected to prohibit, or severely limit, fan attendance for the rest of 2020 — which will slash ticket, concession and other revenues.
“Should the pandemic prevent fans in arenas or stadiums into mid or late next year, team finances will be pressured by the lack of game day revenues,” Fitch said.
Additionally, teams may face delayed, or unpaid, income from partners and sponsors.
“Existing cash, untapped lines of credit, additional team level borrowings through banks or private placements and league and ownership support mitigate credit risks for most teams in the medium term,” Fitch said.
For instance, Fitch said that the NFL increased the team borrowing limit to US$500 million from US$350 million in late May “to allow franchises greater flexibility to borrow to strengthen balance sheets.”
“Nevertheless, unprecedented financial pressures may be exacerbated across sports leagues where more highly leveraged teams do not benefit from financially strong ownership groups,” Fitch said.
This, in turn, may prompt distressed franchises to sell minority stakes to raise liquidity.
Broadcast revenues remain a bright spot for the leagues despite their diminished seasons, Fitch said.
“Major U.S. sports leagues received or continue to receive the majority of broadcasting revenues for the current season, providing financial stability and protection for league-rated debt,” the report noted.