The world is beginning to awaken from a long shut-down slumber imposed by the coronavirus pandemic. To a degree, it has been jolted by events that have reawakened the need to address racial inequality and police brutality. But the virus still demands a cautious approach when it comes to returning to the routines taken for granted a few months ago. The challenges remain daunting.
Among those facing serious challenges is the world of sports. Sports is athleticism, entertainment and big business. All three rely on an audience, crowds of fans that buy into the experience and revel in it. But social distancing and crowds, to state the obvious, are not an easy mix. Closeness and cheering, which involves a mouth wide open, are among the prime suspects when it comes to spreading the virus.
The Associated Press has been offering a series of stories about what a return to sports might look like and the many ways the coronavirus will continue to influence the way sports is run. It’s not just about fans and stadiums. The interactive exhibits of the renovated Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, for example, have had to back off from a “hands-on” approach.
What will a game look like? What will it be like to play before an empty stadium, or before one where the attendance has been substantially reduced? What’s the point of home field advantage when there are no home field fans around to provide it?
And then there are finances. While some sports, like football and baseball, can depend on television contracts, other sports will not have that luxury.
There’s also the experience of the fan. There are many no doubt eager for games to resume — we long to root, root, root for the home team. But how is it going to feel returning to a game, even to a game where the size of the attendance has been significantly reduced? In short, how will it feel the next time you find yourself in a crowd?
These, and other questions and concerns, some anticipated but also others that will surely arise, are heading our way over the next few months.
Just like so many other aspects of life changed by the pandemic, it will take some getting used to, as fans, players and those who run the leagues try to fashion our new normal.