At the risk or either extrapolating from insufficient evidence or depressing ourselves or both, let’s play another round of “When will this all end, and what will sports even look like when it’s over?”
- Curves be flattening! Italy’s new case rate is down and its rate of increase in deaths is slowing, both of which are signs that that country — which is about two weeks ahead of the U.S. in terms of both when the virus began to spread and when it began lockdowns to slow the pandemic — is seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. It’s still going to be a really long tunnel: Coronavirus deaths peak several weeks after new cases do, because the disease takes time to run its course, and even then it’s not safe to lift lockdowns until the new infection rate is way, way lower than it is now, or else cases and deaths will both soar again. But it is a sign that social distancing works, even if that effect isn’t yet showing up in the figures from the U.S. (which, of course, still hasn’t gotten everyone staying at home yet).
- Sports leagues are starting to announce, or at least leak rumors of, plans for restarting, not that any of them seem to have much to do with reality. MLB officials are reportedly resigned to playing games at first in front of empty stadiums, reasoning (correctly) that that will be allowed before crowds will be allowed to attend games again — if that’s something we even see at all in 2020. Games could be shifted to Arizona (though since Arizona just announced a lockdown yesterday, it’s likely to reopen for business later than some other states, if anything) or the World Series could be played at Dodger Stadium to make up for canceling the All-Star Game, but really all this is just playing games on paper until we see how soon mitigation measures can be lifted, whether infections then flare up again in the fall, and lots of other things that are currently unknowable because this virus just hasn’t been around long enough to say. (Well, it’s been around in bats, but when you ask them questions they just argue with you a lot.)
- The NFL still thinks it’s going to hold a full season in the fall with full stadiums, which good luck with that. The NBA was reportedly looking to mimic the Chinese Basketball Association’s approach to resuming play, which given that the CBA just shut down again at least until May is hardly reassuring.
- Meanwhile, bereft sports fans are watching lots of streaming video (as are we all) and also tuning in to computer simulations played by real athletes, though it sounds like Andrew Heaney isn’t going to be competing anytime soon.
All of this makes it really hard to predict what the end game looks like. Given the shape of the curves from Asia and Europe, restarting some kind of pro sports by June or July seems possible, but there’s no way of knowing yet when fans could return, or if play might have to be suspended again after just a few weeks. (Also: What to do about filling in for the numerous players who would presumably have to be under quarantine at any given time, after they or a family member came down with COVID symptoms?) And once that happens, will fans desperately rush to re-fill stadiums, or steer clear for fear of being in large crowds? Will sports ratings return to pre-pandemic levels, or will everyone be too caught up in binge-watching European police procedurals? Will people be afraid to buy tickets now that both sports leagues and StubHub are refusing to issue refunds yet for games canceled by pandemics, even while ticket brokers consider asking for a government bailout?
Only one thing’s for sure: No one knows. Now if you’ll excuse me, I gotta go try to figure out how unemployment claims work now, if anyone really knows that either.