In early March, the sports world came to an abrupt halt because of the coronavirus pandemic. Now, as America begins to slowly reopen, the speculation surrounding the attempted start or restart of professional sports has increasingly grown as a major news issue, in particular, Major League Baseball (MLB).
Greg Bouris, director of Adelphi University’s undergraduate sport management program and the former director of communications for Major League Baseball Players Association, a respected professional in sports communications and operations for more than 40 years, shares his insights on the complications of a restart, with health, safety and economic impacts at the forefront.
“First and foremost, health and science should dictate the process of resuming play, with or without fans,” says Bouris. “Leagues and teams must consider and prioritize the safety of players, team/organizational personnel and all required support staff when making plans for a return to play. Additionally, when (and if) fans are eventually allowed back into stadiums and arenas, their safety also becomes a major concern. Safety precautions should include frequent testing of personnel and social distancing inside playing arenas, staff offices, locker rooms, media production trucks, press boxes, luxury suites and more.”
According to Bouris, when it comes to a restart, not all sports are created equal. “Return to play scenarios differ greatly between leagues. ” Bouris says. “Labor relations in each professional sport, seasonality and central revenue vs dependency on local revenue, all present different benefits and obstacles between leagues. In many cases, the words may be the same, but their definitions can vary greatly between sports.”
One of the top concerns for restart is the economic impact — the loss of present and future revenue. “Refunds for missed games, media rights and fees for lack of live events and team owners and individual players’ personal financial losses are in play when considering the present and future revenue implications of a restart,” says Bouris. “When it comes to potential loss of future revenue, leagues must consider seating limitations brought on by social distancing, fan apprehension in attending mass gatherings, lower fan attendance impact on in-stadium signage/promotional/sponsorship revenue, and we can’t forget the potential loss of fan interest due to the massive amounts of downtime.”
With sports shut down for several months because of the coronavirus, some fans may have moved on to other forms of entertainment to fill their time. To draw them back in, Bouris says the restart will be a great opportunity for sports organizations and their broadcasting partners to be innovative and fresh. “To keep fans engaged at home, sports with fan-less games and a captive home audience should consider new camera angles, open mics, cameras on players (helmet cams), streaming options, micro-wagering (in states with legalized sports betting) and at-home, fan reactions pumped into stadium speaker systems, to name just a few of the innovations we may see.”
Bouris has been actively sought out for his thoughts on the present situation by news outlets across the U.S. and Canada. Next month, he will moderate an alumni panel discussion on the pandemic’s impact on sports, and he will host a two-day, online session for high school students to introduce them to the field of sports management by highlighting the pandemic’s impact on an industry that was poised to achieve global revenue records in 2020 and beyond.