The pandemic has hardly spared any aspect of life in America, sports notwithstanding. Stadiums are empty, some players are being asked to reside in bubbles 24/7 for the safety of their team, and no sports leaders can say definitively how their season will end.
“It’s definitely a weird, sort of, temporary new normal.” – Bill Shea, The Athletic
As organizations and leagues try to plot their next steps so that players have the safest possible experience and new cases don’t continue, the possibility of revenue flow and fan engagement hang in balance.
Listen: Sports writers on how professional and high school teams are adjusting to the return of sports.
Bill Shea is a senior writer for The Athletic, who covers the business of sports and is based out of Detroit. He shares his take on how each of the most popular professional sports leagues are confronting the changes of the pandemic.
For Major League Baseball, Shea says that these teams are not playing within a bubble like other sports leagues are. This has its risks, as teams have to consider the health and safety of the many staff, managers, and coaches as well as players.
“They’re king of American television, every year 90% of the most-watched broadcasts are NFL games.” — Bill Shea, The Athletic
“Baseball’s had a few dozen games canceled this year, I’m not incredibly optimistic that we’ll see a whole season,” says Shea. If the season does end up being canceled, Shea says he’s not sure if spectators would be upset. ”Everybody was happy to see baseball come back, but it’s been chaos since then,” says Shea. “Even if they did get to the end, I think it’s going to be a season where they rely on winning percentages as opposed to actual wins and losses,” says Shea. “I don’t think every team will get all 60 games in.”
The NBA is back for the restart of the season where players are in a bubble in Orlando, Fla. So far, it seems to be working as no players have tested positive. However, these empty arenas filled with simulated crowd noise make this season almost like something out of the Twilight Zone. “Everybody’s trying to embrace and see what modern technology they can use to try and make it look like what we’re used to,” says Shea.
According to Shea, professional football might be the hardest sport to pull off in the times of COVID-19.
“There’s no social distancing in football unless you’re the punter or placekicker,” says Shea, and not every team is using bubbles. Despite this, he says that the National Football League is in the best position to play without fans, as there are only ten home games and the majority of their income comes from network deals.
“They’re king of American television, every year 90% of the most-watched broadcasts are NFL games,” says Shea.
Geoff Kimmerly is the Editor of the Michigan High School Athletic Association’s “Second Half.”
“We know that if we don’t bring school sports back, other people will find ways to start up opportunities for people to play.” — Geoff Kimmerly, MHSAA
He has spoken out on behalf of the MHSAA to explain their approach to high school athletics this fall. Football practice in high schools will begin on Monday, and players will only be allowed to wear helmets until the week following. The six other fall sports will begin practice on Wednesday, according to Kimmerly.
“We know that if we don’t bring school sports back, other people will find ways to start up opportunities for people to play,” says Kimmerly. He says that the MHSAA’s stance is that schools provide the safest opportunity for teens to play sports right now, as they’ve worked closely with Governor Whitmer’s office, including the Department of Health and Human Services chief medical executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun. ”We’re cautiously optimistic, but I can’t tell you we’re not even a little bit worried,” says Kimmerly.
This article was written by Detroit Today student producer Lauryn Azu.