US wildfires impact sports industry

Wildfire smoke fills the air during a September 14 doubleheader between the Seattle Mariners and Oakland Athletics at T-Mobile Park in Seattle, Washington. Two subsequent Mariners home games have been shifted to San Francisco, California, due to air quality concerns. (Photo by Lindsey Wasson/Getty Images)

Wildfires raging through the United States West Coast have resulted in a pair of additional pro game and event adjustments, with more potentially to come.

As those wildfires now are happening in 12 states in the West and Northwest, degrading air quality significantly to unhealthy levels in many areas, Major League Baseball shifted a two-game series between the Seattle Mariners and San Francisco Giants set for the Mariners’ T-Mobile Park to the Giants’ Oracle Park. The games, originally scheduled for September 15-16, will now be played on the 16th and 17th instead.

Though California is also a major center for the wildfires, the Bay Area air quality is still comparatively better than in Seattle, with the rescheduling providing league officials yet another operational challenge in a tumultuous, unprecedented season that also has seen game postponements due to Covid-19, protests over racial injustice, and hurricanes.

“Unfortunately, the air quality in Seattle has gotten worse overnight here at T-Mobile Park and it is not clearing at all today,” said Kevin Mather, Mariners president and chief executive, on September 15. “Forecasters expect to clear late Thursday and into Friday morning. As always the health and safety of the players, and our staff is our first priority. 

“To assure the games could be played, the best solution was to relocate to the Bay Area. We appreciate the Giants’ willingness to work with us on this challenge, and we look forward to returning to T-Mobile Park on Friday to host the [San Diego] Padres,” Mather said.

The move came after the Mariners on September 14 played a doubleheader at T-Mobile Park against the Oakland A’s in a thick, smoky haze.

A’s manager Bob Melvin said following those games the team was not approached about any potential postponement of either half of the doubleheader.

“No one said a word,” Melvin said. “I heard 200 (on the air quality index) was the cutoff level to start, and my understanding is it was way over that, both games.”

The wildfires and resulting air quality could also impact MLB’s newly developed plan to stage much of its postseason in neutral sites, with California-based ballparks in Los Angeles and San Diego forming key parts of that plan.

The Ladies Professional Golf Association, meanwhile, has announced that this week’s Cambia Portland Classic tournament will be reduced from 72 holes to 54 due to ongoing air quality concerns in Oregon.

The event will now be played from September 18-20, at Columbia Edgewater Country Club in Portland, Oregon.

In addition, all press conferences scheduled for September 15 were called off while the September 16 pro-am has been canceled.

“As we have said throughout recent months, 2020 has been the year of health and safety, and this situation is no different,” said Heather Daly-Donofrio, the LPGA’s chief tour operations officer. “Our meteorologist says that it is unlikely that air-quality conditions will improve before midday Thursday, and we cannot risk the health of our players, staff, volunteers, broadcast crew and others at the golf course. This is not a choice we made lightly, but we are confident that this is the right decision.”

A National Women’s Soccer League game between Portland Thorns and OL Reign was postponed twice in a matter of days in the past week due to the air quality concerns in the region.