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Will COVID-19 Destroy Worldwide Fandom?

As the world has been blindsided by the COVID-19 virus, it has shut down country after country, business after business, and sports everywhere. The start of the 2020 baseball season has been postponed, the NFL draft altered, the NBA season halted abruptly forcing the cancellation of games but the status of a playoff season in the air.

March Madness was kicked to the curb for the first time and there’s no hockey, no golf, none of any sport including MMA. The Olympics was prepared to begin this summer in Tokyo and it appears now that it is going to be rescheduled for next year. All the while sports fans everywhere clamoring for some type of athletic competition are being force-fed old footage of past events.

If this situation the world is in ever ends, the question regarding sports and the fans who follow them will be how many come back to watch and for those who do what will their interest level be? Because of COVID-19, please have lost jobs and the economy is tanking. With ticket prices and vendors charging and arm an leg for food and drink at sporting events, will fans be able to afford to travel to stadiums and arenas to watch sports and cheer on their teams?

As a diehard sports fan for nearly my entire life, the disinterest has already begun to sink in. How can you enjoy what you can’t see? Out of sight out of mind? Alternative things begin to drum up interest in a person who doesn’t have the opportunity to watch something they are passionate about. This certainly is not entirely the fault of those who run sports but they should realize that by postponing sports and canceling events fans are getting turned off and have become more concerned about their situations that have changed dramatically because of COVID-19.

While all sports have been halted, it sets a precedent because never before in the history of the world has there been a time that all sports both professional and amateur been brought to a dead stop with no timetable of a return in sight. There have been stoppages in sports however some for lengthy periods which for the most part were brought about because of contracts and disputes. Some of the sports however missed entire seasons. What follows are some of the lengthiest postponements of professional sports in history.

The major sports leagues (MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL) all have labor unions. Often the unions clash with team owners over the respective Collective Bargaining Agreements which can lead to work stoppages and cancellations. In 1982 that was the case in the National Football League when the player’s union demanded 55% of revenues to be shared with their salaries. After disputing with owners, the union went on strike and there was no football for nearly two months. The result was a season of just nine games and the league sending 16 teams to the playoffs. The Washington Redskins would end up as Super Bowl champions beating the Miami Dolphins 27-17. Fans love their football and this strike did not impact the fan’s opinion on the sport.

Baseball has had its share of problems with work stoppages as well and just a year before the aforementioned NFL strike, Major League Baseball did the same as their union had an issue with how compensation would work for free agents. Unlike the NFL’s strike the following year, baseball’s work stoppage began in mid-season with last games played on June 11 and did not resume until August 10. To fix the issue, the league split the season in two and then held their post-season which resulted in a World Series triumph by the New York Yankees who defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers in six games. The All-Star was affected as it was moved from its typical July date to August just before the “second half” of the season began.

In 1994, the NHL had CBA problems and it led to a 104-day lockout and it was just a foreshadowing of what was coming in later years for professional hockey. There was no Collective Bargaining agreement for the National Hockey League during the 1993-94 season and with negotiations on a new deal carrying over into the 1994-1995 season, an agreement was not able to be reached limiting the hockey season to just 48 games and the cancellation of the All-Star game. In the end, a new contract agreement was reached but for the most part, the major changes were only a salary cap for rookies.

The NBA is certainly not immune to a lockout or strike and in 1998 they had one of the longest suspensions of a season in the history of pro sports, 204 days to be exact. Unlike some CBA negotiations and settlements, the players of the NBA came out of this one unsatisfied. That’s because once signed, the deal gave owners salary caps they were seeking for individual players, a rookie pay scale to their liking and the league minimum salary increased by just $15,000. The players also experience a season that lasted just 50 games in a process that began on July 1, 1998, and was not settled until January 20, 1999. The All-Star game was canceled and once the season ended in June, the finals were completed on June 25 with the San Antonio Spurs winning the NBA title defeating the New York Knicks four games to one in the finals.

Not to be outdone by the NBA, Major League Baseball was at it again in 1994 with a 232-day strike. With the season beginning as normal, negotiations on a new CBA brought games to a standstill on August 11 with just nine games being played before play was halted. Teams would not take to the field again in 1994 and for the first time, the World Series canceled marking an absence of the World Series for the first time in 90 years. The effect of the strike carried over into 1995 when only 144 games were played the following season. This time, a CBA dispute affected the fans as attendance did take a hit for some time until baseball was able to recover which since then has.

The capper in this discussion has to be that of the 2004-2005 season which never happened. Never before had an entire professional sports season been dismissed but it happened for the National Hockey League in 2004. It happened because of disagreements with the labor union and owners and because of it, the game suffered. Fans took the work stoppage to heart and the NHL had to do all it could to regain the fan’s interest and attendance. For record's sake, 310 days went by before there was hockey again and to put it into perspective, there are 365 days in a year.

So the question: will fans recover from a lack of ANY sport when and if COVID-19 dies down or goes away and sports can resume? Will fans even have money to attend live events? While owners, commissioners, and the like are going along with the postponement and cancellation of sporting events as requested by the government, they certainly must be losing money. Are they also losing the interest of fans? That remains to be seen. But for sports hungry people, they are being compensated on television and radio with the broadcast of past events. For me, that doesn’t cut it. It’s a been there done that kind of situation.

There will be no Summer Olympics and how disappointing and frustrating that must be for athletes who for some have trained their entire lives to live and compete in these moments. Results of competition when sports resume may also be affected by this layoff in regards to those who might suffer “ring rust” and not being in the playing shape they wish to be.

The COVID-19 impact is mighty and not just frustrating but hugely disappointing. Sports owners and officials are going to be facing a near-impossible task of winning everyone back and there will be those who will look back and wonder if the right thing was done and whether it was actually worth calling off all events.

Harv Aronson

Harv Aronson

Writer

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