Blue Jays: Does the NHL hub-city model work for MLB?

TORONTO, ON - JULY 09: Hand sanitizer is seen during a summer workout by the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre on July 9, 2020 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - JULY 09: Hand sanitizer is seen during a summer workout by the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre on July 9, 2020 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/Getty Images) /

MLB did not implement a hub-city model for the 2020 MLB regular season, which contrasts with NHL’s plan to play all games in two cities. Was an NHL-like structure a viable option for MLB?

There has been much discussion concerning MLB’s plan to have each team play home and away games in 2020. Many people have pointed to the NHL’s hub-city model and asked why couldn’t MLB do something similar? The answer to that question lies in the differences between the two leagues in 2020.

What are the differences between the NHL and MLB in 2020?

  • The NHL was planning for the playoffs, which meant that the number of teams in a hub reduces as each round ends (the NHL plans for the Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Final to take place in one hub city)
  • MLB had to implement a regular-season schedule, which meant that all 30 teams play throughout the regular season
  • NHL teams typically play every other day during the playoffs
  • In 2020, MLB teams will play 60 games in 66 days
  • If each series of each round goes the maximum number of games, the NHL needed facilities for 145 games
  • MLB required stadiums for 900 games
  • Assuming 30 personnel per NHL team, the maximum number of people to be housed is 480 for the NHL, which is the figure for each of the first two rounds of the playoffs
  • If there are 35 people per MLB team, 1,050 MLB personnel require accommodations
  • It is easier to maintain an ice surface than a grass field
  • The NHL will play three games per day for only the first round
  • The feasibility analysis of MLB playing three games per day at a ballpark will follow

In my view, the challenges posed by COVID-19 were more significant for MLB than the NHL.

How many games can be played per day in one ballpark?

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Assume that a game takes at least three hours to play. Also, suppose a three-hour window is required between games to allow the following to occur:

  • The teams from the immediately preceding game leave the park
  • Cleaning of the facilities under COVID-19 protocols
  • The grooming of the grounds
  • The next two teams enter and prepare for their game

Under those assumptions, the start times would be 9 a.m., 3 p.m., and 9 p.m. (local time). That schedule would be very tiring for the players, especially in terms of daily rest. It would likely increase the risk of injury.

For ballparks with grass turf, there is also an impact on the field to consider. Personnel have to maintain the grounds to a level that does not pose an undue injury risk to the players. If there are three games per day per park, when would the grass be watered? When would it be cut? When can the turf rest? If you have watched the Wimbledon finals on TV, you may recall that the broadcast traditionally shows the toll on the grass-court throughout the tournament.

The grass started lush and green; it ends brown, thinned, and shiny. Imagine what Wimbledon grass would look like if 18 MLB players in cleats ran over the court daily for two months. Wimbledon’s grass would not be remotely playable. Player safety must be a priority; related to that objective are safe playing conditions.

Three different game-start times, and the impact on field conditions, rules out playing three games per day at a ballpark throughout the 60-game season. Consequently, you are looking at a maximum of two games per day per park.

Accordingly, the maximum number of teams at one location would be four, which means that you need at least eight ballparks to accommodate 30 clubs. Furthermore, if all of the ballparks have real grass, then you probably need four to eight extra stadiums in the rotation. The additional ballparks will allow the grounds crews of the other stadiums to maintain their respective field suitably.

How many ballparks?

For the sake of argument, let’s say that 14 ballparks are the number of fields required to play the regular season for a hub-city scheme. This total includes the primary ballparks (eight) and the secondary parks (six). The number of towns will be less than 14 if cities have two MLB teams near each other. That list would include the following cities:

  • New York (Yankees and Mets)
  • Baltimore and Washington
  • Chicago (Cubs and White Sox)
  • San Francisco and Oakland
  • Los Angeles and Anaheim

For purposes of developing this tentative plan, there is no consideration of the current COVID-19 problems in California, Arizona, Texas, and other states. The objective is to determine how many cities are needed for MLB to implement a 2020 regular-season schedule.

One option would be to assign 14 teams to New York, Baltimore, and Washington; Chicago and Boston would be the other cities in the rotation. On the West Coast, 16 teams would play in San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles, and Anaheim. (Phoenix) Arizona, Arlington (Texas), and Houston would be in the plan for surplus parks.

Under this arrangement, there would be 12-hub cities. There are other variations of the scheme noted above. However, I think the result will be that the number of towns required for a hub-city model to work for MLB is more than many people realize.


The hub-city configuration would work for MLB in 2020. But it would have to be much larger in scale compared to the NHL’s model. Also, unlike the NHL’s plan, multiple trips between hub cities would occur, albeit at a lower frequency than MLB’s current schedule.

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The last word

There are many differences between the 2020 MLB and NHL seasons due to COVID-19. These variances made a two-city hub scheme a viable option for the NHL but not for MLB. A feasible hub-city structure for MLB would involve 12 cities, assuming many variables. It is fair to criticize MLB on many topics. Still, a failure to implement a hub-city configuration similar in scale to the NHL is not one of them.