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MLB ‘looking at a lot of options’ for a season, Liberty Media CEO says

Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei (left) and Braves Chairman Terry McGuirk at a Braves game in 2016.
Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei (left) and Braves Chairman Terry McGuirk at a Braves game in 2016.

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

The CEO of Braves owner Liberty Media fielded the question Thursday of whether there will be a baseball season this year.

“I think it’s an uncertain question,” Greg Maffei said in a live interview on CNBC, “but the (MLB) commissioner believes there will be baseball. The real question is, will we have enough games to be able to have a full credible season that allows us to … produce winners of divisions and the like?”

Maffei said MLB is “looking at a lot of options,” including the widely reported idea of having all teams play their games in Arizona without fans in attendance, to start a season delayed indefinitely by the coronavirus pandemic.

“If baseball does resume … it seems most likely it’ll resume first with players only and no fans present,” Maffei said.

He said the Arizona plan is among many possibilities under consideration, some of which he said are not publicly known.

“There is a high threshold to try and make some of those things work in terms of getting people there and maintaining the health,” Maffei said. “That’s first and foremost -- the safety of the players and obviously the safety of any fans that may participate.

“But there’s obviously a lot of pent-up demand for baseball as well,” Maffei added. “Nothing says America is working better than baseball starting up again. So trying to balance that desire against safety is the key. And I think the commissioner is all over this.”

Earlier Thursday, Maffei told investment analysts on a conference call that the Braves have sufficient liquidity to weather a year without games if it comes to that.

“The scale of their needs, even in a no-season scenario, is much less than the need or burn rate at either a Live (Nation) or a Formula One,” Maffei said, referring to two other businesses in the company’s portfolio.

MLB has committed to pay $170 million in salary advances to players across the 30 teams in April and May -- $5.67 million per team on average.

“If there’s no season, there is no more requirement for payment to the players,” Maffei said on the conference call. “170 (million dollars) across 30 teams is not a massive amount of money in terms of a drain. There are other costs, obviously, but the players are the single largest expense. So liquidity at (the Braves), we think, is more than sufficient.”

Maffei's conference call and CNBC interview were conducted primarily to discuss Liberty Media's complicated decision, announced Thursday, to change the attribution of its Live Nation stake and other assets and liabilities between its Formula One Group and its Liberty SiriusXM Group. The Braves remain a separate tracking stock under the Liberty umbrella.