Professional Sports Leagues Cope with COVID-19

Matthew Wang

As 2020 began, people were full of hope and joy for the start of a new year full of many important sporting events. 2020 was the year where the Summer Olympics would take place in Tokyo, Japan, and eager fans were ready for the massive event. Sadly, as the year started, a pandemic arose, and as it traveled across the world, it shut down country after country eventually hitting the US in the late winter/early spring. By the time cases grew in the United States, other countries had their athletics and other daily activities completely brought to a halt. Not soon after, the US followed. People were in dismay as the sports they played in the spring were abruptly called off, and winter professional sports was postponed indefinitely. An already hectic year to begin with now brought an end to sources of relaxation and entertainment for many people, only adding to the struggle of following the COVID-19 restrictions.

As the year progressed, the US became more strict with its COVID protocols, and certain areas that were once hotspots of the virus seemed to simmer down. With this began the start of reopening, but with many precautions as to prevent another wave. The reopening of some non-essential business also came with the reopening of some professional sports. 

The sports that were first to reopen were tennis and golf, as they require the least amount of physical contact. Following them would be contact sports, such as soccer, basketball and football. With the contact sports, guidelines were much stricter as it required them to be tested almost once every day for COVID. If the tests came back positive, the players would go under strict quarantine, oftentimes in isolation houses, to prevent the spread. Only once a certain amount of time in these conditions, or proof that it was a false positive, would the player be able to return to playing or training. Additionally, in the NBA and NFL there were official guidelines on how locker rooms must be formatted to allow for ample space for social distancing. Additionally, after practices or training, all gear was to be thoroughly disinfected and cleaned, and team meetings were almost all held virtually to prevent any large gatherings of people.

With the reopening of many of these sports, many people felt relieved, as there had been a start of some financial troubles in the sports leagues. When everything closed down, the sports leagues no longer had an income from ticket sales, even now, fans are not allowed to attend almost all professional sporting events. For some leagues like the NFL and the NBA it was a setback, but did not cause them to falter too much financially. But in the case of the NHL and the MLB this lack of ticket sales caused a lot of economic difficulties. 

The NHL and the MLB rely heavily on their ticket sales as most fans of these sports love the aspect of attending events versus watching the games at home. While the NFL and NBA have a large fan base that attends games, they also have a massive fanbase that loves to keep track of them from the comfort of their own homes. For some like LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers, missing one game could cost him up to $400,000, which may not seem much seeing his hefty salary, which is about $37 million dollars a year. But minor league baseball players rely on tickets and concession sales to pay their rent and to survive. In addition to baseball being a more popular sport to attend in person, they also run many private networks which don’t have content due to statewide shutdowns. Overall, the pandemic has impacted the sports industry a lot, and with the large amount of precautions they are taking, people hope teams will be able to play throughout their entire respective seasons. 

Interviews with MBS students have demonstrated a recurring pattern. Many students are  extremely happy that the sports they enjoy watching have returned, despite the ongoing world condition. And upon asking whether they believe the sports will be able to remain open, many said they were hopeful seeing how many precautions the leagues were taking, while others worry that an outbreak would be inevitable in each of the leagues. 

Overall, with the return of many sports, some of which had been postponed, and some who had just begun their seasons, many people are glad to be able to return to their old hobby of watching sports.