Which American Team Sports League Will Be The First To Return To Play?

mlb nba nhl nfl

  • MLB, NBA co-favorites to be first team sports leagues to return to play
  • MLB, NBA, NHL, MLS have all been on hiatus since mid-March
  • NFL regular season not scheduled to begin until September

Slowly but surely, sports are starting to come back online. In May, we saw UFC and NASCAR return to action after lengthy hiatuses. The Match 2, a golf game between Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady, was also a smashing success. That event preceded the return of the PGA Tour, which will be back in action starting June 11.

While individual sports have had a relatively easy time figuring out how to relaunch, the same can’t be said for team sports in the United States. We’ve seen soccer leagues in Europe getting things going again, but we still don’t have a definitive date for when the NBA, NHL, MLS, or Major League Baseball will return.

We may get more clarity on the plans for some leagues in the coming days, but for now, we’re left guessing. The absence of sports means pickings have been slim when it comes to sports betting, too. In fact, in an attempt to fill the void, some online betting sites are even offering a prop bet on which sports league will be the first to begin play.

The updated odds have the NBA, NHL, and MLB as virtual co-favorites to become the first league to return to play. The MLS and NFL are long shots:

League Odds To Be First League to Return
NBA +200
MLB +200
NHL +210
MLS +375
NFL +1000

It Won’t Be Football

So far, the NFL is the only major American pro sports league that hasn’t been affected in a big way by the lengthy stoppage. Obviously, that’s because the NFL season doesn’t begin until the fall. The league did have to put the kibosh on plans to hold the draft in Las Vegas back in April, but the virtual version of the draft essentially went off without much of a hitch.

Shortly after the draft, the league unveiled its full 256-game regular-season schedule. Week 1 is slated to begin on Thursday, September 10, with the reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs squaring off at home against the Houston Texans. The first preseason game between the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers is slated for August 6.

For purposes of this prop, preseason contests don’t count. So, the other four leagues would essentially have to cancel their entire seasons for the NFL option to cash here at +1000. Those odds are appealing from an upside perspective, but it’s incredibly unlikely that football will be the first team sport to return to play.

MLS, Players Nearing Deal

The MLS season had just begun at the time the season was stopped. The league had played two weekends’ worth of matches before the 2020 campaign was suspended.

On Monday, ESPN reported that the league and MLS Players Association were far apart when it came to agreeing on how to proceed with the current season. However, a day later, it sounds as though there is much more optimism. Former player Taylor Twellman reported that MLS and the MLSPA are nearing a deal on economic concessions for the current season that will help the league avoid a lockout. The MLS threatened a lockout last Sunday.

The deal will presumably help keep the league from losing too much money as a result of proceeding with games without fans in attendance. MLS had been adamant about including a force majeure clause tied to attendance, but the league has since backed down in that regard. MLS is expected to deliver its latest proposal to the MLSPA on Tuesday afternoon.

ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle says the league is hoping to hold a tournament in Orlando at the Disney ESPN Wide World of Sports complex over the summer, which is a lot like what the NBA is trying to do. Carlisle says players are expected to make their way to Florida around June 24, and they would stay in town for six weeks to play the tournament.

Teams will likely need several weeks of training before starting live games, so the tournament itself likely wouldn’t begin until some point in the middle or end of July.

It’s not impossible to think that MLS could beat the other leagues to the punch, which makes America’s top soccer league an interesting betting option here at +375. I’d easily take MLS at that number before the NFL at +1000. That said, I’d prefer a small flier on it as opposed to going all-in on MLS being the first league to return.

NHL’s 24-Team Playoff

Last week, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman revealed the details of his league’s plan to return to action. 24 of the teams will return to two to-be-determined hub cities to play a 24-team playoff. The four teams with the best records from either conference will play a round-robin among one another to determine seeding. The other 16 teams will face off in best-of-five series in what the NHL is calling the Qualifying Round. The seven teams that don’t fall into either category won’t play at all.

While the plans should make for fun viewing, one thing Bettman left out was a firm timetable. The commish said the league is hoping to return in the summer, and that the tournament may last until the early fall.

Bettman added that the best-case scenario involves teams starting training camps “not earlier than the first half of July.” Players have insisted on holding three-week training camps to get back into game shape. If he’s right, that could mean we don’t see players return to game action until very late July or early in August.

That puts the league on par with the MLS timeline, and right behind the reported MLB and NBA windows. Betting on the NHL returning first at +210 doesn’t offer enough upside, in my opinion. I’d rather take a shot on either of the NBA or MLB, while even MLS at +375 looks more appealing.

NBA Targeting July 31

On Thursday, the NBA’s Board of Governors is expected to vote in favor of commissioner Adam Silver’s return-t0-play plan, which is reportedly targeting a launch date of July 31. The league seems to be leaning in favor of inviting 22 teams to return to play at the Disney World complex in Orlando, though those details are still being hammered out. Some believe all 30 teams should return, but that seems pretty unlikely at this point.

Regardless, the NBA is the only league that has leaked out an actual date on the calendar. Teams will likely begin training camps in their home cities before everyone heads to Central Florida in July. Teams will hold another training camp on-site in Orlando with the potential for some scrimmage games before playing actual, meaningful basketball games.

The NBA, of course, was the first league to shut down. Silver made the call to postpone everything back on March 11, and other leagues followed in the NBA’s footsteps. Team owners have been adamant about their desire to be the first team sport to return to action, but safety measures take priority over symbolism.

MLB Is The Wild Card

Then, there’s Major League Baseball. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred shut down spring training a day after the NBA called it quits. That was just two weeks prior to the league’s originally-scheduled Opening Day of March 26.

Baseball has tossed a number of proposals around. First, they talked about every team reconvening to play at the variety of venues in Phoenix. Then, there was talk of having half of the league play in Arizona with the other half playing in Florida. Then, there was a three-state hub idea between Arizona, Florida, and Texas.

Now, it seems as though the league has settled on the idea of having every team play in its usual home stadium, albeit without fans. New York, Arizona, Florida, California, and Texas are among the states that have already said that they would allow sports to take place if safety measures are taken. Other states will surely follow.

Baseball has a unique issue, though. The owners and players are bickering about money. In March, the MLB and MLB Players’ Association agreed on a deal that would pay players a prorated salary based on whatever number of games they would eventually play. The owners are now trying to claim that that deal was made with the understanding that fans would be allowed to attend games, though, and they’re now trying to back out of that agreement.

Owners want the players to take massive pay cuts because teams won’t be generating nearly as much revenue without fans’ butts in seats this summer. Players want the owners to hold up their end of the original bargain. Squabbling and public grenade-lobbing have ensued.

Owners initially proposed an 82-game season before a postseason. Players shot back with a 114-game proposal. Owners have since offered to offer prorated salaries, but only for a 50-game season. If an agreement is eventually made, I wouldn’t be surprised if they went right back to the 82-game idea.

MLB Is The Best Bet, In Spite Of Itself

MLB has reportedly been targeting a relaunch date around the Fourth of July. More symbolism and all. The players’ proposal had games starting June 30. These dates are well ahead of what the other leagues have floated. However, we’re pretty sure the NBA, NHL, and MLS will play. We have no real idea whether baseball will happen at all, and it all comes back to money.

If MLB’s owners and players can pull their respective heads from their respective rear-ends, baseball is a great bet to become the first sport to return at +200. Players won’t need as much time to ramp-up their physical conditioning as they will in other sports. Not all MLBers necessarily need to be in peak physical shape in order to capably play the game. See?

While the lack of progress in negotiations is concerning, I can’t imagine baseball being dumb enough to let itself lose an entire season. Especially considering Americans are starved for any live sports they can get these days. Baseball has the rare chance to have the spotlight all to itself, at least for a few weeks.

While the NBA may be a safer bet considering we have what appears to be a firm date, I am optimistic that MLB will pull itself together in the nick of time. Bet on Major League Baseball to be the first American team sports league to return to play in 2020.

The Bet: MLB (+200)

Sub Categories:
Taylor Smith / Author

Taylor is a sports writer based in Southern California. While he primarily specializes in basketball, baseball and football, he will also dabble in things like soccer and politics from time to time. He has lived in just about every corner of the United States at one point or another, and he has been covering sports and sports betting for the better part of a decade. Taylor currently lives in Long Beach with his fiancé and their two cats.