The night the life-altering impact of the novel coronavirus dawned on many U.S. sports fans came moments before the tip-off of an anticipated Jazz-Thunder game on March 11, 2020.
In footage that is unnerving to watch now, the rocking, sold-out Oklahoma City crowd is told to disperse for reasons that are not made clear as a growing look of concern slowly spreads across their faces.
It was revealed later that night that a Jazz player had tested positive for the still mysterious virus and that the NBA would suspend its season.
The next day MLB, the NHL, MLS and other organizations announced postponements and the North American sports landscape entered a deep freeze.
A year later, the virus has claimed more than half a million lives in the United States and upended everyday life, even as the deployment of effective vaccines has provided hope of a return to “normality” sometime later this year.
Pandemic-related revenues losses for the four major North American sports leagues – the NBA, NFL, NHL and MLB – is estimated to be about $12 billion, a 30% drop from the last full season before the pandemic, sports analysts told Reuters.
Now as teams slowly begin to open their stadiums and arenas to fans again, the question looms – when is it safe to do so, will they return?
Victor Matheson, an expert in sports economics and a professor at College of the Holy Cross, said:
“That’s the $50 billion question and I don’t think anyone has a decent answer.”
Even before the pandemic, low-cost, high-definition TVs made staying home an increasingly attractive option, Tatum said, and the lack of energy emanating from stands full of cardboard cutouts further helped drive down TV ratings during the pandemic, with marquee events like the NBA Finals and Super Bowl posting dismal viewership numbers.
On the other hand, fans have roared back to the stands following disasters like 9/11 and, while many people have suffered extreme financial hardship during the pandemic, others have banked their disposable income over the past year.
“There is a lot of pent-up demand. And despite the fact that this is an extremely harsh recession, the government has also been generous in handing out money. So while there are people who are extremely economically suffering, the majority of the population is flush with cash right now.”