Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Why major sports might risk comebacks during the Pandemic

Need to keep Sports competition going and Fans Engaged

Published: Jul 31, 2020 11:47:46 AM IST
Updated: Jul 31, 2020 11:53:28 AM IST

The emergence of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) has had a devastating toll around the globe. While infecting millions and killing hundreds of thousands around the world, Covid-19 forces individuals to live vastly different lives. It has robbed people of their safety, freedom and financial stability.  It has also taken away from us those activities we love doing in our leisure time including our love and enjoyment of sports. Sports have become an integral part of our lives and our socialization. It surprises no one that team owners and league commissioners are attempting to fasttrack its return. While some may view this as a risky, there are good reasons why many leagues around the globe are willing to gamble a little to return the world’ attention to sports. Here are six of those reasons.

Need to keep fans engaged - People can be fickle. There is no doubt that with every day sports is excluded from the limelight, owners and league commissioners grow fearful that people’s enthusiasm for their sport will deplete. There are no lack of distractions to draw fans away from sports and owners know that the clock is ticking. Every day that passes without sports is another day of lost revenue and another where fan’s susceptibility to other distractions increases.

There is a need for sporting competition - Art, music and sport may not be critical to our existence, but its importance is indisputable. Sports makes lives fuller, more enjoyable and are far from  expendable. This has become even truer during this pandemic period where gloomy stories have dominated the news cycle. With the pandemic enjoying an almost unchecked progression around the globe, people need an outlet, even if only a brief diversion from reality. For many, the return of sports is synonymous with the return to normalcy. The quick return to sports following 9/11 and the Boston Bombing illustrated how sports has become a coping mechanism and is needed now more than ever.

Increased availability of testing - One of the problems that arose in the earlier period of the pandemic was the lack of available tests. Ordinary people weren’t being tested as often as they should have been. Taking into account that asymptomatic individuals can spread the virus unknowingly, virus spread surged where testing was less prevalent. This made frequent testing of athletes unconscionable especially considering the wealth disparity and the lack of supplies  available to those working on the pandemic’s frontline. However, now that an  adequate number are available, sports leagues are now able to use them without fear of depriving those who need them most.

Leagues have decided to house athletes in bubbles - One major provision of the return of sports has been the introduction of bubbles for the purpose of keeping players shielded from the virus. With the NBA deciding to move all the remaining games of the 2020 season to Disney World, players were required to be quarantined and tested prior to the beginning of play. Also, they are not allowed to break quarantine till the end of competition. Sacramento Kings' forward Richaun Holmes found this out the hard way. After breaking quarantine to accept a food delivery, Holmes was forced back into a 10-day quarantine before resuming team activities. As points out, there are ways to make the bubble better, so there is a good chance things will improve as the season wears on.

Revenue - The financial impact of the novel coronavirus on global revenue cannot be overstated. While businesses have been able to weather heavy financial losses, many others have been forced to close. Countless individuals have lost their jobs and unemployment is on the rise. Of course, sports organizations have also been affected in this way with many being forced to cut staff or find ways to help them financially with athletes themselves chipping in. It comes as no surprise then that many sports clubs are desirous of  the return of sports as a means of boosting their struggling revenues. Of course this resumption comes with many new rules and a high price tag. And with sports venues not admitting fans for the foreseeable future, they will continue to suffer losses, even as revenue from TV viewership resumes.

Seasons hang in the balance - For many sporting organizations, the emergence of Covid-19 has left management, athletes and fans high and dry. Some, such as the NBA suffered the agony and uncertainty of a season abruptly paused. Events like the Olympics were put on hold, while other events  (Wimbledon) were cancelled outright. The resumption of sports is seen as a means by which sports organizations can bring an end to the uncertainty and emptiness brought about by the abrupt cessation of all sporting events. It will allow teams to resume competition and while this isn’t in the organic way to restart the season, it will offer fans a little more closer`than they could previously envision.

Owners and players agree to the new normal - None of this could have happened if team owners didn’t come together and decide what renewed competition would look like. In the NBA, team owners voted to allow competition to resume albeit with only 22 teams playing in the bubble, the others accepting the loss in revenue as inevitable. The NFL and the NFL Players’ Association (NFLPA) have agreed that the league will forgo the four-preseason games that herald the beginning of the season while also agreeing on daily testing for players. After lengthy but failed negotiations, MLB imposed a  heavily reduced 60-game season fortified with rigorous health and safety protocols.

During this pandemic we must take risks in order to survive. We have to visit the grocery stores when necessary, many of us still need to go to work, and life must go on, even in the sports world. While it can be a risk for players to play again, it’s a calculated one. Yet it hasn’t been without some doubters. The NFL, MLB and NBA, as part of their agreements with their Players’ Associations, have allowed any player concerned for his health to opt out of the season. Accordingly, many players have chosen this option and it may well prove to be the correct decision since as NBA commissioner Adam Silver admits, there is no guarantee that the season will conclude naturally.

Disclaimer: The views, suggestions and opinions expressed here are the sole responsibility of the experts. No Forbes India journalist was involved in the writing and production of this article.