Will sports return this fall?

The sports industry brought in about 73 billion dollars in revenue in 2019, but right now, it does not look like Americans can expect sports to return in 2020 anytime soon. There are so many uncertainties and unknowns surrounding opening stadiums this summer due to the close proximity of thousands of fans and the threat of spreading the coronavirus. “The average attendance during the 2020 season for an NBA game was between 15,000 and 20,600 fans. Home games at Dodger Stadium last season averaged 49,065 spectators.” A Green Bay Packers game averages 77,845 fans at Lambeau Field. “SEC college football games average more than 74,000 spectators per game. And more than 23,000 people pack into Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York City to watch Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic and other dominant tennis stars every summer in the US Open.”

Joseph Allen, a professor of Exposure Assessment Science at Harvard University, argues that sports have a huge role to play in the aftermath of coronavirus, which includes being a model in their behavior and actions. League leaders are worried about relaxing the control measures too soon and inducing a second wave of transmission to susceptible people. Some changes that can be made to accommodate fans in stadiums are having every other seat or every two seats empty or having hand sanitizer at more stations throughout a stadium. Another suggestion is to close concession stands to avoid people standing closely together in lines. 

However, a study released by Seton Hall University’s Stillman School of Business, found that 72% of respondents said they would not attend sporting events if they resumed without a vaccine for the coronavirus. This may not reflect the sentiments of most Americans since this was a relatively small sample size of 762 respondents. President Trump stated that stadiums would reopen “sooner rather than later.” Nevertheless, California Governor Newsom said that he does not “expect to have any sports games until at least Thanksgiving and we’d be lucky to have them by Thanksgiving.” California has five MLB teams, four NBA teams, three MLS teams, three NFL teams and three NHL teams, making the state an influential entity in the decision to resume the season. One major factor is the current variance in state stay-at-home orders. Some states are quarantined until June, while others have earlier end dates and most states have different exceptions to the orders. In response, leagues have considered moving their games to Las Vegas, since the city has the most relaxed laws.

The MLB is willing to play without fans so that their games can be televised. However, even if leagues choose to play in an empty stadium, they would have to have enough coronavirus tests for the players, coaches, trainers, support staff, television production crews and other personnel. In addition, they would have to gain the approval of the players’ union. There are discussions about playing at neutral stadiums for regular and postseason games. Golf has rescheduled the Masters tournament, the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship while cancelling the British Open. The WNBA has postponed the start of its regular season which was to begin on May 15. The NFL’s chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills stated that “as long as we’re in a place where when a single individual tests positive for the virus that you have to quarantine every single person who was in contact with them in any shape, form or fashion, then I don’t think you can begin to think about reopening a team sport.” Currently, NCAA football is still scheduled for the fall and they awarded an extra year of eligibility to spring athletes who had their seasons cut short. However, athletic directors across the country, including Notre Dame’s Jack Swarbrick stated that football cannot return unless students are back on campus in the classrooms. Bill Gates stated that he believes schools will be able to resume in the fall.

There is a cost to shutting down stadiums for the remainder of the year. This is not just a question of spreading a virus—many jobs and therefore, livelihoods are sacrificed by shutting down sports facilities throughout the summer and fall across the country. Randi Trent, a server at the Wells Fargo Center, has worked at the stadium for the past 19 years feeding the press box, the cameramen, and the VIP lounge. He works year-round at all three Philadelphia sports stadiums. His whole income revolves around Philadelphia sports and now that they have been shut down his income has dropped to zero. He is a cancer survivor who just came back from medical leave and thus has no savings and is unsure how much longer he can pay his bills on unemployment. This is only one employee’s story out of hundreds of thousands individuals who are employed by stadiums throughout the country. Many athletes and team owners have agreed to pay part-time employees for the remainder of the scheduled NHL and NBA seasons and partial donations for part of the MLB season. However, this is not a uniform decision across all stadiums and many employees are filing for unemployment. 

In conclusion, no one has an answer for when the sports industry can return to its former glory. It is likely that the country will have to quarantine in the future, thus it is imperative that organizations, networks, and facilities innovate to accommodate the new reality. In addition to the changes mentioned earlier in this post, stadiums could increase their sanitation workers, implement new strategies such as sanitizing seats and food vendor equipment in between innings and during halftime. Realistically, implementing these new policies will raise ticket costs, but this may be the price we need to pay for peace of mind.





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