As with many other industries, sports leagues are grappling with how and when to start back up in the midst of the pandemic. It seems that the idea of playing games in empty stadiums is currently the common plan regarding how to get leagues back in business the quickest.
However, there are some who feel that sports without fans ruins the experience, even when watching on television.
Should sports leagues try to play without fans or should we wait until everything can truly get back to normal before they start back up? Associate Publisher Chris Rhoades and Front Office Manager Shauna Gerke debate.
Rhoades: Play in empty stadiums if that’s what it takes
Playing games without fans might be the weirdest thing I could dream up in terms of the sports landscape. In high school, and even if our team was terrible, there were still some fans in the stands. At any level, having that energy in the gym or stadium is what makes sports so much fun. Even if watching on television, hearing the roar of the crowd makes the experience so much more enjoyable, for pretty much any sport that you might watch. But, when it comes to our current situation regarding the pandemic, if it takes not having any fans in the stands for sports to come back, it’s absolutely what we have to do.
I firmly believe that it will be possible for football and basketball leagues to be played this fall and winter. If procedures are in place to make it possible, sports leagues should press forward, even if it means playing in front of empty seats. While it’s certainly not ideal, it beats the alternative to waiting for an “all clear” to sit jam packed in a stadium with 80,000 other people.
Our country needs sports. We need something to root for, something to scream at other than our neighbors for not social distancing and politicians. Even when physically separated, sports brings so many of us together. If we temporarily need to play games in front of empty seats, it needs to happen as soon as it’s deemed safe for the players and coaches.
Finally, while it might sound selfish to think about all of us lazy fans needing something to watch on television this fall, I can almost guarantee that the players would choose this route as well. Especially at collegiate and professional levels, competition is in their blood. If given the chance to compete, and play the games they love, I would imagine almost all athletes would jump at the chance to get back on the field or court.
Gerke: Sports should return with fans
I will admit, I’m not the biggest sports fan in the world, so I’ve never been to a professional baseball, football or basketball game, nor a major NASCAR race. But, I’ve been to regional stock car races and local ball games, so I understand the value of a crowd.
Some folks think sports shouldn’t start back up until the fans can cheer from the stands, and others feel they should start back up and let the fans follow as the situation allows. I think sporting events without fans is meaningless.
In addition to not being a fan, I’ve never been a big player of sports either. I played softball when I was younger, so I understand being on the field, and from that experience I can imagine the athletes would prefer fans in the stands or on the sidelines to no fans at all.
Anyone who has been to a Nebraska Cornhuskers football game understands the vibe and energy in the stadium is a unique experience. The energy would surely benefit the athletes as they are playing the game, as well as those viewing those games or events.
Another thing to consider is the financial impact. If fans aren’t in the stands, how are organizations going to make money? Professional organizations may not need the money, so I was really thinking about smaller business and organizations like the Little League and the YMCA. Fees and concessions are an important part of the “little” guy’s revenue stream and losing those funds could cause major ripple effects.
Finally, allowing sporting events to take place without allowing the fans to participate may upset a few people and cause riots (on the professional level). At the local level, I’m sure there are plenty of parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles that would also be upset to miss any event their kiddos were participating in.
All of that said, I think it’s a good idea to start allowing sporting events to take place. Just so long as the fans can come back with them. At a socially acceptable distance, of course.