For nearly three months, almost every sporting event has been canceled or postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As businesses across the country reopen, it is apparent that at some point, sports must return too. The question is not if sports will return this year, but when and how they will.
The coronavirus pandemic brought an unprecedented threat to all sports. As the virus quickly spread, it became clear that sporting events could not be safely held. After the National Basketball Association (NBA) suspended its season in March, other sports leagues and associations around the nation followed suit.
The cancellation and postponement of sports was not only an issue for entertainment purposes, but it posed severe economic consequences. According to The Athletic, the NBA would lose up to $900 million of television revenue alone if it is unable to play the playoffs. Smaller franchises fared even worse. The XFL, a recently formed football league, was forced to lay off all of its employees and suspend operations because of the virus. ESPN reports that the total economic loss caused by the cancellation of spring sports is over $12 billion, and will continue to grow if sports do not return soon. .
As lockdown orders begin letting up, various sports leagues are reacting accordingly. Every national sports league has adopted some sort of plan to return, with some having already returned to practice facilities. Some spring and summer sports have even resumed or begun their seasons. International soccer leagues have successfully returned to play without fans in attendance.
Larger sports leagues have been working hard to resume normal operations. On June 4, the NBA finalized plans to resume its season at Walt Disney World, starting in late July. The plans allow the league to salvage its regular season while still allowing a full playoff schedule.
As for safety concerns, the NBA’s plan minimizes risks as much as possible. The games will be played without spectators and the players will be tested daily for COVID-19. The neutral-site location also eliminates travel between cities common during the playoffs, instead creating an isolated environment for play.
If it is successful, these plans could potentially set a model for other major sports leagues to follow. The NBA’s plans to regularly test players for the virus and play without fans will most likely become measures for every sport that plans to return this year.
While a large portion of revenue comes from ticket sales, the demand for sports is higher than ever. Without the normal schedule of spring sports, people are eager to watch the next event. Peyton Manning, Tiger Woods, Tom Brady and Phil Mickelson recently hosted a charity golf event that became the most-watched golf event in television history. When other sports return, many predict the viewership will similarly be record-setting.
However, the path for collegiate and high school sports has been more complex. The future of their seasons will largely be dependent on the outlook of the virus and what each school decides as the best plan. The NCAA president said that collegiate sports will not happen if students are not allowed back on campus this year. Since many schools are resuming physical classes next fall, the NCAA and high school athletic associations will have to make decisions that ensure fair play and safety for all, even if that means cancelling the upcoming season.
With the future of COVID-19 uncertain, the NBA and other leagues have set the precedent that normalcy can be safely achieved. The process will be full of trial and error, but in a time that yearns for the entertainment and unification that sports bring, we should be willing to go on that journey together.