Things may be getting back to normal amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that has had team sports on the Injured Reserve list since mid-March. When I say “normal,” I mean the new normal, of course. Take the NHL, a league that officially announced the end of its 2019/2020 regular season on Tuesday, a decision that paves the way for an agreed-upon 24-team Stanley Cup playoff tournament that is supposed to begin some time this summer.
That’s if the NHL deems such a tournament safe for all involved, obviously.
If hockey does resume, it will do so in designated hub cities in arenas without fans. When it comes to the no fans part of the equation, the NBA and MLB are right in-step with that idea, even if those two leagues haven’t officially worked out final plans to resume and start, respectively.
Then there’s the NFL, a league that is apparently still hopeful for stadiums full of fans when the regular season kicks off in about three and a half months.
“We are planning to have full stadiums until the medical community tells us otherwise,” said Troy Vincent while appearing on the Brian Mitchell Show on Friday in a quote courtesy of NBCSports.com. “Now remember when we’re talking— we’re talking about September, August, September,” Vincent continued. “So there’s a lot that can happen here. So we’re planning on full stadiums.”
In fairness to Vincent, the NFL’s Head of Football Operations, he did throw in a caveat in the event that the pandemic continues to dominate in time of possession: “We also know that we have to plan for half stadiums. Three-quarters. So we’re planning for all of these different scenarios. But first and foremost, we’re making every effort, working with the medical community, if we can have those stadiums with all people until they tell us otherwise when that time comes, that’s our plan. That’s our plan of action.”
I get it, the NFL has to be prepared for everything, and given that we’re still over three months away from seeing real football in action, maybe it’s a bit premature to write off the notion of full stadiums in September.
Also, there’s the matter of revenue and how much every NFL team stands to lose while playing games inside stadiums devoid of fans. For instance, the Steelers could lose roughly $156 million in total stadium revenue in 2020, according to Forbes. As for the league as a whole? About $5.5 billion.
That’s a lot of money, but is it enough to bring the league to its knees?
If playing games without fans isn’t enough to destroy the NHL— of the four major professional leagues in the United States, that’s the one that can least afford it— the NFL, the league with the mega-TV contract, will survive. Will a loss of revenue affect the players and how much they’ll be paid? In a salary cap league, one where the players get a percentage of the revenue— 47 percent in 2020— yes.
But, again, it’s not the end of the world.
What could cripple the NFL is another massive outbreak of the Coronavirus that is traced back to a stadium full of football fans. In terms of public perception, forget Spy-gate, forget the anthem controversy, this could be the PR hit which brings the league to its knees once and for all.
The most realistic plan the league should be aiming for is to play its games in stadiums which are a third-to-half full. How would it look if the NHL, NBA and MLB spent their summers playing in front of nobody, and then the NFL opened up its season with thousands of fans sitting shoulder to shoulder in stadiums all across the land?
That was a rhetorical question, because it would look bad.
If you would have asked me in March, when the pandemic first swept through the country, if we’d have stadiums full of football fans by September, I would have said yes. But now, knowing all that we do? It just doesn’t seem like a good idea.
At least the Steelers are preparing for the new normal, as the team held back 50 percent of its available single-game tickets when they went on sale last Friday.
Just my opinion, but that should be how all 32 teams operate. It’s better than not operating at all— something that could ultimately happen if the NFL gets a little too confident and comfortable over the next few months.