by Trey Arline
The NBA is debating on whether or not to cancel one of its best seasons in nearly a decade. The NFL Draft went virtual rather than the fountains of the Bellagio. Two European soccer teams ended their seasons entirely.
The threat of the coronavirus has all but consumed every aspect of public and private life since it was classified as a pandemic in March. The virus has shaken every person, industry and community since it became more widespread. Time Square and the Mecca are empty. The Las Vegas Strip are open enough for bike riding. The loss of sporting events may be the worst reminder of what how serious the threat of COVID-19 is.
Basketball was the first sport to be affected by the virus. The billion-dollar March Madness tournament was canceled this year, and the NBA was the first major league in North America to suspend its season indefinitely after All-Star Utah Jazz players Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus. Other players in the league tested positive as well, including NBA MVP and 2x champion Kevin Durant.
To add insult to injury, Gobert was seen touching the microphones while being asked questions about the virus and even went on to touch Mitchell’s clothes in his locker after the interview. Gobert’s own callous behavior and eventual diagnosis is an ironic reflection of how careless the public has been in handling the virus.
Sports commentators have been hitting a wall as well. The lack of content overall on any given day other than debating when seasons will resume is evident.
“Life without sports isn’t the same,” says UNLV sports broadcasting student Jason Taktadjian. “not only boring, but it feels so desolate. You have almost nothing to go off these days. It’s bad but I’m still managing with the constant news that comes out in relation to it.”
While the NBA is desperately trying to keep the show going – with rumors floating around that they may finish the season in Las Vegas or Disneyworld – other leagues and sports around the world are not as lucky. Soccer leagues were among the first sports organizations to recognize the dangers of COVID-19 and were the first to cancel their seasons.
The Dutch Eredivise and more significantly, the French Ligue 1, have chosen to cancel their seasons. The Eredivise will not have a winner, but Ligue 1 have given Paris Saint German (PSG) another French trophy based on their performance leading up to cancelation. Despite being countries hit the hardest by the pandemic, Spain and Italy plan to resume playing in the coming months.
The Spanish league, La Liga, plans to resume regular matches by June 12 despite 12 players testing positive. The Italian Serie A – a country where over 31,000 have always died from this virus – plan to resume training by May 16 with smaller groups training and masks on. The German Bundesliga plans to resume regular game matches on May 15. All of these leagues plan on closed-door matches with no fans in attendance.
In the US, the US Soccer Federation terminated its Youth Development Program due to financial costs. The MLS, currently celebrating its 25th season and having expanded to now 30 teams, postponed their games until July.
The NFL in its offseason has been carefully monitoring the situation, and so far has taken advantage of the time off to craft new safety guidelines for the team, players and fans when the season starts. The NFL Draft, which was meant to come to the Las Vegas Strip on the Bellagio fountain, was filmed in homes, kitchens and around player’s loved ones. Memes made overnight about Bill Belichek’s kitchen bunker and sometimes misguided attempts to humanize the players aside, seeing the prideful gleam in the eyes of a player’s loved ones in the comfort in their own homes like Cole Kmet playing for his hometown Chicago Bears was more touching than a corporate lightshow could have been.
There has been more than one way to keep people pre-occupied but having all these league stop for indefinite periods of time will be costly. It is estimated that $12 billion in revenue will be lost as a result of the pandemic in the US alone. This will also cut into jobs as well; over 3 million people in the country are employed by sportsLas Vegas, the opening of the new $2 billion Allegiant Stadium has been indefinitely pushed back and may not have enough patrons entering the stadium when it is safe to open.
Least of all is one of the biggest sporting competitions in history being pushed back. The 2020 Summer Olympics, which were set to begin next month in Tokyo, has been pushed back to 2021. This is the first time since World War I and II that the Olympics has been postponed or cancelled. And many of those athletes that play lesser known sports depend on the sponsors and pay from the Games to make a living. With the Games becoming less popular and seeing less of a return financially, the Olympics will need to do some serious restructuring to stay afloat and relevant by next year.
There have been interesting developments stateside in trying to provide content. UFC 249, one of the biggest cards in the company’s history, carried on despite the pandemic and controversy surrounding Dana White’s approach to handling the virus. The NBA’s execs and players seem very eager to return and could possibly do so in Las Vegas or Orlando.
The documentary, “The Last Dance”, chronicles the rise of Michael Jordan and the 1997-98 season, his last year with the Chicago Bulls and end of his 6-year dynasty. In response to the pandemic, ESPN accelerated its release to both give its viewers some new content, keep up the ratings, and give new fodder for the analysts at their desks. Although poised to be a hit for the network regardless, the pandemic has made it a ratings hit, with the first two episodes bringing in 6.1 million viewers, the most for an ESPN original program in 20 years.
While “The Last Dance” was a smash hit, the NBA Horse game was not one of them. Its abysmal format and almost cartoonish outcome seemed like something out of a Harlem Globetrotters performance.
Time will tell what becomes of professional and college sports in a year from now, but the vehicle used as our escape and unity may not be the same thing we left it by the time it returns.