COVID-19, besides causing a medical crisis of epic proportions, has also left public and private operators and overseers of various industries with difficult decisions to address when it comes to deciding how to “reopen,” whenever that time comes. There are many considerations in play and frankly many viewpoints to consider. However, in the context of major sporting events (and perhaps concerts by way of analogy) an interesting consideration is the viewpoint of the consumer (more commonly referred to as “the fan”). In fact, in a recent poll conducted by Seton Hall University (South Orange, New Jersey) the tribe has spoken, and clearly so. According to the Seton Hall sports poll study, “a huge majority of Americans including a substantial majority of sports fans are prepared to stay home until the development of a vaccine for Coronavirus.” The poll essentially concluded:

“Asked what they would do if the leagues resumed play before the development of a vaccine, 72 percent of Americans said they would not attend games, with 12 percent saying they would if social distancing could be maintained.  Only 13 percent said they would feel safe attending as in the past.”

The participants were also asked about the NFL which, via Commissioner Roger Goodell, has steadfastly intimated that it will open its season on time. In response, the participants had this to say:

“[I]f social distancing continues into the fall, 70 percent thinks the NFL should not start up to insure the players safety, with 20 percent saying the league should resume but allow the players to choose not to play, and only six percent saying the league should start up as planned.”

An interesting question posed to the participants asked how fans would react to events played to empty stadiums, a feature that clearly cuts into the enormous profit making ability of major sporting events. The poll participants said:

“As for the possibility of playing games with no fans present, a similar number – 76 percent – said they would watch broadcasts of the games with the same interest as before, with only 16 percent saying they would be less interested and 7 percent saying they would be more interested.”

NBA Comm. Adam Silver

Finally, the participants were asked if the various major leagues (which all followed NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s lead) suspended play early enough. They said:

“Seventy-six percent said sports shut down at the right time, with 16 percent saying not quickly enough and six percent saying too quickly.”

The conclusion that can be drawn from this poll is that simply re-opening venues is not going to be the answer; the safety of the attendees (and not just the players) has to be addressed and considered by the owners and operators of the events. Since this safety assurance (i.e., a vaccine) appears to be beyond the reach of the sporting owners and operators, without a vaccine “[s]eventy-four percent of Americans thought it was possible, likely or very likely that sports would be cancelled for the rest of this year.” 

Many have said that the COVID-19 crisis will change our way of life, some saying even permanently. At least in the professional sporting world, it is clear that this proposition may be more true now than ever. But one thing is for sure. Memo to owners and operators of major sporting events and leagues; listen to the fans now more than ever. They have something to say and you better be listening.

Ken “K Bo” Biedzynski, Editor