The National Football League (NFL) intends to have a full season, and is expected to announce its regular schedule this coming week.
Meanwhile, the National Basketball Assn. (NBA), National Hockey League (NHL), and Major League Baseball (MLB) are among the pro leagues that are wrestling with completing or starting (in baseball’s case) their schedules.
What it all amounts to is a giant puzzle where lost revenues and high health risks for players and staff are pretty much the only guarantees.
ESPN reported this week that research conducted on its behalf estimates that the absence of sports since March will erase at least $12 billion in revenue and thousands of jobs. That total will more than double if college football and the NFL don’t play this fall.
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Any return of professional sports will more than likely be a TV-only affair, with no live attendance. Players and staff would be isolated in hotels and limited in their interactions with the outside world. There is talk that the NBA and NHL would use remote locations to complete their regular seasons and playoffs, with a late start to next year’s schedule resulting from that. MLB has discussed playing all its games in Arizona and, perhaps, Florida, where its teams already train.
The NFL is holding out hope that training camps can start in their normal July time slots, allowing the league’s regular season to start in September. But college football faces a more daunting challenge: the schools the teams represent may not be open in the fall, and putting amateur athletes at risk would be anathema to most schools. Plus, some leagues in states that have relatively little impact from the coronavirus may proceed with schedules, while other leagues may or may not start, or play with all of their members fielding teams.
One big headache faced by all of the squads concerns safety. What if a player on a team, despite all precautions, contracts the virus? Are the leagues liable for putting the player in jeopardy? Will the teams play on with a smaller squad? What about staffers, broadcasters and other media?
One interesting factor in these decisions is revenue. Given that there will be no fans, will player salaries be pro-rated or sliced in the coming years? That’s particularly important for the leagues that have revenue sharing, like the NFL. And what of the employees in the low-paying jobs, like concessions, ushers and others? ESPN reports that $371 million in wages are likely gone. There’s also a ripple effect on the ancillary restaurants, hotels and other businesses that service fans for the sports.
Taken altogether, the issues that surround reestablishing major sports in this country are daunting. Although the stakes are high, a year without major sports in this country may be yet another victim of the pandemic.
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