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Sports fans hesitant to return to live contests amid coronavirus fears

The sports world has been put on hold, and fans are stating they will be hesitant to return when those sports resume.

Pittsburgh Steelers v New York Jets Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Holding a three point lead with just under two minutes remaining in the Pittsburgh Steelers’ home opener at Heinz Field, the Steelers’ defense breaks the huddle as “Renegade” blasts over the speakers, echoing across the Allegheny.

“Renegade” reaches its fevered peak, and the usually boisterous crowd is silent. Well, vacant would be a better word for the empty 60,000 seat stadium.

Would there even be music at the game if the stands are empty? Would the stadium be silent save for the sounds of the players, coaches and officials?

Could this be the future for the Steelers’ 2020 season?

According to a poll conducted by the Sharkey Institute in the Seton Hall Stillman School of Business, the spread of the novel coronavirus and its uncertain timeline moving forward has made sports fans reluctant to return to games, if those games even resume.

72% of those surveyed would not feel safe returning to games before a vaccine was created for COVID-19, and 40% felt that sports should not come back in 2020, regardless of fan attendance.

While the sample size is only 762 respondents, who were reached over telephone, it’s pretty fair to assume the average American would be skeptical to return to a crowd of over 15,000 at any point over the next half year.

If the NFL season resumes as planned, or even accepts a delay of a few weeks, would fans be allowed to attends games? Would they even want to?

Rick Gentile, the director of the Seton Hill Sports Poll from the Sharkey Institute and the former Executive Producer and Senior Vice President of CBSSports, shared his sentiments on the topic.

“This virus has the attention and respect of the nation. Those who identify as sports fans, at all levels of interest, line up closely with the general population in regard to their own safety and that of the players.”

Even if the U.S. government were to continue the social distancing precautions in effect right now, 70% would not want sports to resume, in respect to the players’ safety, and 20% would want the league to resume but give players the option to choose whether or not to play. Only 6% think that sports should just start as regularly scheduled.

However, if fans aren’t allowed — or don’t go — to games, 76% of those surveyed said they would watch games as they did before. 16% said they would be less interested, and somehow, 7% said they would be more interested.

While fans attending or not attending games wouldn’t likely alter the plans of fans at home, probably not impacting TV and media rights deals too much, the lack of fans at eight — maybe a couple more with a playoff run — home games would have far reaching consequences.

According to Statista, the Steelers made $72 million in ticket sales alone in 2018. That doesn’t account for concessions sales and merchandise sales made while attending the games.

If games were to resume without fans, non-essential stadium employees would likely be barred from returning. Which would raise more questions on the policies of employees being paid during the remainder of the season, of which 59% of those polled felt necessary to continue doing.

Despite talk of professional sports reopening in the weeks or months to come, with group gatherings of more than 10 people discouraged, any talk of sports resuming soon seems unlikely.

When asked about the likelihood of sports being suspended through the end of 2020, 46% felt it was possible, 26% thought it was likely or very likely and 24% said it was unlikely.

The poll showed even stronger findings in whether or not games should even resume in the first place.

40% of those polled said they didn’t think sports should resume in 2020, 23% said only with restricted attendance and 21% said with no fans at all. Only 12% said with fans present.

If sports do open in the next month or two, they’ll likely be unlike anything we’ve ever seen.

If the NFL begins its season as scheduled, would you attend any home games? Do you think it’s the right move to continue with the season as planned? Let me know what you think below.