Does resuming sports seasons hold water?
The London-based data-driven digital agency Two Circles has suggested in a new analysis that following the outbreak of COVID-19, the global sporting calendar for 2020 will, in all likelihood, lose almost half of its originally-scheduled events as a whole lot of them has either been canceled or postponed.
A research carried out by Two Circles shows that out of a planned 49,803 major sporting events, only 26,424 are likely to take place over the course of the year. In March, when lockdown was imposed in most countries around the globe, 1,870 events took place out of an originally scheduled 5,584.
Speaking in terms of the economic impact, Two Circles estimates it will amount to a drop in revenues of $61.6bn for the global sports industry – down to $73.7bn for the year, after posting $135.3bn in 2019. Previous estimates suggested that the industry would grow by up to 5 per cent in 2020.
Two Circles definition of a “major sporting event” goes as such – one in which professional athletes are involved with an expected attendance of at least 5,000, while its models for projecting the likelihood of events taking place later in the year are updated daily based on infection rate changes and confirmed scheduling alterations.
With few countries like Germany, South Korea and New Zealand deciding to resume play, Two Circles estimates that 5,467 events will take place in September – a full fifth of the year’s total estimated sporting events.
Gareth Balch, Two Circles Chief Executive, remarked, “Sports properties are keen to return as soon as possible as the longer the sports calendar is on hiatus, the worse the financial impact will be. However, sports should – and will – only return when it is deemed safe to do so, and with the support of all relevant Government and medical authorities. Even hosting sports without crowds poses a complex challenge.”
Though the Dutch League has canceled the domestic season but Sweden wants to go forward with its domestic football season from June 14 and so is the case with South Korea which wants to resume on May 5 its baseball season in empty ballparks.
The Dutch Football Association (KNVB) has effectively canceled the domestic season after The Netherlands Government extended a ban on the staging of major public events by a further three months.
The announcement made by Prime Minister Mark Rutte on Tuesday evening includes professional sports events and music festivals through to September 1, as the country attempts to tackle with COVID-19.
Rutte stated that limiting the easing of current restrictions was a necessary measure to avoid a new wave of cases.
Following the Government’s announcement, the KNVB said it would not make an attempt to continue efforts to resume the 2019-20 football seasons, but will make a bid to consult with the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), which has been pushing its member unions to make an attempt to finish their seasons.
The KNVB said the Government’s decision gives a “clarity” adding that a meeting will be held on Friday to discuss the consequences of the cancellation. It added in a statement, “That the KNVB has not yet definitively canceled the interrupted competitions, is mainly because the professional football industry has come into financial difficulties due to the corona crisis. Attempts are being made to prevent clubs from collapsing. As in other parts of our economy, efforts are being made to protect an industry as much as possible against the financial consequences of the current crisis.”
“The fact that football cannot be played until September 1 brings enormous challenges in organizational, sporting and economic terms. We frequently discuss this with the Government, clubs, interest groups and experts. Together, we will look at the possible next steps for football in the 1.5 meter society. Together, we discuss how we can organize football in the future and how to make it corona proof.”
The top-tier Eredivisie was suspended with Ajax leading the table on goal difference from AZ Alkmaar. Ajax said in a statement, “The decision that no public events may be organized for the time being is not unexpected. Ajax and the other clubs were therefore already in consultation to come to a joint, uniform approach for all supporters of all Eredivisie clubs. It is expected that soon there will be more clarity on how to deal with the already purchased (season) tickets for the Eredivisie matches of this current season.”
The Eredivisie is the highest echelon of professional football in The Netherlands. The top division comprises 18 clubs.
The coronavirus count to date in The Netherlands stands at 34,134 and the country has a death count from the pandemic at 3,916. Dutch health authorities have said that COVID-19 cases had risen by 729 in the past 24 hours.
Svensk Elitfotboll (SEF), operating body of the top two divisions of Swedish football, has said it plans to start its domestic season on June 14, with crowds in the stadia.
The Swedish football season was due to start at the beginning of the month, but was postponed indefinitely due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Following a meeting with clubs on Tuesday), the SEF has made it clear that June 14 will be a targeted start date for the season.
A statement made by the club read, “Work is now in progress on finalizing the annual plan for Allsvenskan and Superettan, where the first step is to wait for UEFA’s international calendar to see what dates are playable. The ambition is still to play all matches with the public, but Svensk Elitfotboll is constantly following developments in Corona/COVID-19 in society and any new directives from the authorities and/or the Government.”
Allsvenskan is a Swedish professional league for men’s association football clubs. It was founded in 1924, and is the top flight of the Swedish football league system. Superettan is an association football league and the second highest league in the league system of Swedish men’s football.
Sweden has taken a noticeably different approach to COVID-19, with schools, restaurants and shops remaining open. SEF Secretary General Mats Enquist believes June 14 is a realistic start date, but stressed the organization would follow whatever guidelines the authorities laid out.
Media reports quoted Enquist as saying, “It’s been almost two months. We are not experts on viruses, but just look at how quickly things can change. Just a week ago it was talked about that you could not play training matches and now it is talked about that you can play with fans (in the stadia). It is up to the experts to judge, we cannot speculate as much.”
To date, the coronavirus cases in Sweden are 16,004 and the death count stands at 1,937.
Status: Domestic football season to resume in stadia on June 14, 2020, with fans.
The Korea Baseball Organization has said the KBO League will start its 2020 season on May 5, initially in empty ballparks, with the preseason campaign making an immediate start.
The 2020 regular season was due to start on March 28, but was deferred due to the coronavirus scourge. Tuesday’s announcement from the KBO saw four exhibition games take place later that day, starting with the LG Twins defeating the defending Korean Series champion Doosan Bears 5-2 in an empty stadium in Seoul.
The preseason fixtures will end on Monday, with the regular season then due to commence, initially behind closed doors. South Korea’s Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun, announced on Sunday that guidelines were being eased as regards social distancing, stating that outdoor sports games could go ahead with proper safety measures in place, including not allowing fans to attend.
The Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) is the governing body for the professional leagues of baseball in South Korea.
The coronavirus cases to date in South Korea stands at 10,694 and the death toll – 238.
Status: KBO League to resume on May 5, 2020, in empty ballparks.
As per media reports, clubs in rugby union’s English Premiership are looking at a best-case scenario of resuming its season on the weekend of July 3-5, 2020.
The league still needs to complete nine more rounds and hold its end-of-season play-offs. Plans are said to involve a month of training before the first match leading to a final, ideally at Twickenham Stadium, on August 15.
Twickenham Stadium is a rugby union stadium in Twickenham, southwest London, England.
Clubs are said to have discussed varied possibilities on where to host matches in a condensed schedule. Twickenham Stadium could be employed as a neutral venue and host multiple games, but London has been most battered by the COVID-19 outbreak in UK and the home of English rugby is currently being used as a drive-through coronavirus testing center.
Premiership Rugby is an English professional rugby union competition. The Premiership consists of twelve clubs, and is the top division of the English rugby union system.
The coronavirus cases in UK to date stands at 129,044, and the death toll – 17,337.
US sporting leagues
Meanwhile, various sporting leagues in the United States (US) have started floating ideas to return to action on the field.
Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC)
The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) was planning to hold its upcoming UFC 249 event on tribal land in central California in order to find a way around federal and State guidelines advising against large gatherings amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship is an American mixed martial arts promotion company based in Las Vegas, Nevada, and boasts some of the highest-level fighters in the sport on its roster.
Media reports stated that the pay-per-view event – which was scheduled to be staged on April 18 at the Tachi Palace Casino Resort near Lemmore, California – was canceled as US is in the throes of a health crisis due to the fatal respiratory disease.
UFC President Dana White was firm on going ahead with the event but top Disney/ESPN executives prevailed upon him to “stand down” as the grim coronavirus scene in the US does not warrant the holding of such an event. The big event now stands null and void until normality returns.
Major League Baseball (MLB)
Major League Baseball (MLB) which suspended its spring training operations in March amid the COVID-19 pandemic is now considering a proposal to stage its 2020 season in spring training complexes in Arizona, Florida, and Texas, in US.
Major League Baseball is a professional baseball organization. It is the oldest of the major professional sports leagues in the United States and Canada. A total of 30 teams play in MLB.
Citing multiple league sources, media reports stated that the three-State plan would see clubs use the local major- and minor-league or spring training facilities and play regular season games behind closed doors.
Tropicana Field (Tampa Bay Rays), Chase Field (Arizona Diamondbacks) and Globe Life Field (Texas Rangers) are being seen as potential venues, along with Minute Maid Park (Houston Astros) and Marlins Park (Miami Marlins).
MLB is said to be weighing up multiple options. Arizona Governor Doug Ducey said recently that his State is willing to play host to all 30 MLB teams, when conditions allow for the start of the season. The MLB season had been due to start on March 26 but this has been pushed back until mid-May at the earliest due to COVID-19.
The divisions would be realigned based on the geography of their spring training homes. The plan would also allow teams to return to the comforts of their spring training sites for three weeks of training, which would also include exhibition games, before opening the regular season and playing a schedule with wholly different divisional opponents.
Financially, it could come as a huge boon for the TV rights holders. They will be in a position to grab maximum eyeballs.
However, MLB sources said nothing has been finalized as yet. They will continue to wait until advised by health and Government officials that it’s safe to start the season, holding out hope that teams could return to their major league cities, even including fans. All said and done, it is never-say-die spirit for them.
Paul T Hanlon, Senior Director, Ballpark Operations & Sustainability, MLB, US, will be one of the speakers at the Coliseum Europe Summit to be held on September 2-3 at Ascot Racecourse in UK.
Status: Considering staging 2020 season in spring training complexes in Arizona, Florida and Texas
National Hockey League (NHL)
Coronavirus has pressed the pause button on National Hockey League (NHL). However, the NHL is mulling to head to North Dakota or New Hampshire in US.
The National Hockey League is a professional ice hockey league in North America, currently comprising 31 teams: Twenty-four in the United States and seven in Canada.
Media reports stated that North Dakota has been mentioned as a potential location where the league could finish the 2019-20 regular seasons and post-season. The University of North Dakota’s Ralph Engelstad Arena — a $104 million, 11,640-seat facility in Grand Forks — is set to be the center of action.
Nothing is concrete as yet and the NHL and Players Association are expected to continue discussions soon on possible locations to resume the season.
The league had initially been looking at an early May restart with a late-April training camp period.
Status: Season still stalled (Final decision awaits)
National Basketball Association (NBA)
Apart from the NHL and MLB, the National Basketball Association (NBA) is keen to play in a ‘bubble city’ if its season resumes which was halted in March after several of its players tested positive for coronavirus.
The National Basketball Association (NBA) is a men’s professional basketball league in North America, composed of 30 teams (29 in the United States and one in Canada).
However, a virtual meeting with the Board of Governors held recently came to no concrete decision to resume or cancel the currently suspended season.
While rumors are doing the rounds of options being considered to restart the season — now a few days past what would have been the end of the regular season — NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said there simply is not enough information yet about COVID-19 to determine what path the league should take.
Silver, who earlier this month said he would have no decision to announce sooner than May 1, made it clear that the wait could be longer than that and that it will be data, not dates, that will determine the league’s future.
“I think we’re looking for a number of new infections to come down. We’re looking for the availability of testing on a large scale. On top of that, we’re looking at the path that we’re on for potentially a vaccine and we’re looking at anti-virals. On top of that, we’re paying close attention to what the CDC is telling us on a federal level and these various State rules that are in place.”
He added, “There’s still too much uncertainty at this point to say precisely how we move forward. I’ll add that the underlying principle just remains the health, safety and well-being of NBA players and everyone involved. We begin with that as paramount. We move forward from there.”
Silver stressed that what counts the most during the coronavirus bane is saving human lives.
But unlike MLB players, coaches and staff uneasy about the prospect of being isolated for an entire season, the NBA — which has 101 reasons to return because of TV revenue — could cope with the solitude easier, given that roughly 80 percent of the season has been completed.
Status: Season still stalled (Final decision awaits)
Are sports possible in 2020?
The sports seasons/leagues within the US (North America) has been hit the hardest due to coronavirus. The United States presently is in a bind due to the COVID-19 situation with body bags piling up by the day.
In such a scenario, is it at all plausible for leagues to resume their seasons in ‘bubble city’? What about the amount of coronavirus tests needed for the leagues? Given the fact that hundreds of thousands who have been infected — and tens of thousands who have died — in the past month in US, would it be possible to scoop up more tests for these players when countless others still can’t get tested.
Moreover, even if the seasons resume in a ‘bubble city’, health experts say that to keep all the players isolated for several weeks before they meet up, and then strictly enforce the quarantine once they do, is a very difficult proposition.
President Trump may encourage league commissioners to start seasons without fans, but the ground reality is very different. Can players play on the field by maintaining social distancing? It is not that easy and going by the way the deadly virus spreads with a simple touch, it will not take time for players to get infected. To top it, there are so many asymptomatic coronavirus cases which have recently come to the fore.
If there is a coronavirus outbreak in a sports bubble, will the small community in which the players’ home ground will sit, will be able to handle the crisis? After all, one positive coronavirus test by Utah Jazz All-Star Rudy Gobert (NBA) led to several players being infected and also accelerated the shutdown of the sports world.
Kicking off the football seasons in Sweden, baseball in South Korea and rugby in London is equally fraught with danger taking into consideration the rate at which the deadly virus is spelling doom the world over.
Taking all things into consideration, resuming sports seasons in US which is right now the COVID-19 hotspot or any other nation, for that matter, will be akin to walking on thin ice. Like Silver says, “When you are dealing with human life that trumps anything else we are talking about and there is no appetite to compromise on the well-being of our players.”
Though resuming sports seasons would be the best piece of news for fans – because they get to see their demi-gods in action on television sets in the comfort of their homes – but, going by the COVID-19 situation globally – it is logistically impossible to hold sports anytime in the near future. Resuming sports season amidst the pandemic does not hold water. Hope is the only thread to which we can hold on to right now.
It is understood that sports properties the world over are desperate to get back to action as they are suffering huge losses, but the key mantra right now is to play safe.
The coronavirus cases in US to date are 819,175 and the fatalities – 45,343.
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