Sports Events and the Coronavirus

An empty ballpark

By Sherri Middleton, Executive Editor

When I was interviewing industry professionals more than a month ago for the annual State of the Industry Report for SportsEvents Magazine, the Coronavirus or COVID19 was on our radar, but still seemingly, a world away in China and a few other locations. It was spreading through travel and not yet in North America as far as we knew.

            At that time there was concern about a great many things for the sports events industry and travel tourism and the possible impact of the novel coronavirus was just one more thing to worry about. The concern in early February was what impact the virus and potential isolation for a viral strain might have on the economy and sports events in particular. There were concerns and comments, but nothing solid to let us know that this virus with an unknown treatment would change our lives so quickly.

            My email inbox and phone calls continued to relay messages of upcoming sporting events until the middle of last week. I was already working on articles about the potential impact the virus would have on sports events. Each time I’d complete one post, I’d have to start again because something else changed.

            When it was announced that the NCAA would hold men’s and women’s basketball games without a paying public audience, everything shifted dramatically. Indian Wells announced the professional tennis tournament would not be held prior to the NCAA’s media announcement and then qualifiers and other Olympic-level events announced they would send athletes back home to the U.S. Other announcements flooded my email. The president announced a state of emergency. Schools were closing. Colleges lead the way by telling students to not return to campuses after spring break.

            Angel of the Winds Arena in Washington State sent a press release that events larger than 250 persons would not be held until further notice as the mayor of the city and governor of the state issued mandates. By then, the virus had ramped up in Washington, California, Texas and other locations across the U.S. in what is now known as community spread – or spreading of the virus through unknown origins.

            The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has been regularly issuing statements about how to prevent the spread of the disease: washing hands for at least as long as it takes to sing the “birthday song” twice. Using hand sanitizer after touching anything or before eating and after using the bathroom. Don’t touch your face. Cough into the elbow. Use napkins when sneezing or coughing and then throw those items into the trash. Stay home if you feel ill. Self-isolation for an extended time if an illness is diagnosed.

            This viral strain of influenza is particularly difficult according to the CDC for people who are 60 years of age or older and those with comprised immune systems or lung diseases.

            I have a friend who lives in Singapore and was working in China during the initial outbreak. In early February he was quarantined for 14 days and then released with no symptoms. He’s in his 40s. His wife and children waited at home for his return. The quarantine in China stopped him from possibly spreading illness to his family, co-workers and community. He either didn’t have the virus or the quarantine stopped any spread from him being a carrier in its tracks.

            My point is that life as we know it will be altered for a few weeks or maybe a few months. We may have to self-isolate to prevent the rapid spread of what has now been classified as a pandemic. We may not be able to attend sports events or travel as freely as we did pre-COVID19, but it’s a short-term adjustment. It’s an adjustment we can live with if we are rational and patient.

            Late last week I received a message from one of the industry experts I’d interviewed a month or so before the Coronavirus scare in the U.S. He wanted to retract his statements about the economic impact that this deadly disease would have on U.S. sporting events. With news channels rapidly announcing more closures and more cancellations and the economy spiraling out of control and the U.S. stock market suffering significant losses, this professional didn’t predict what was to come. None of us had.

            The article and magazine had already been printed. His concern about the impact of the virus on sports events was already locked in the history of the printed words on the pages of SportsEvents Magazine. But he was not alone, and I commiserated with his feelings of being upbeat and positive and then learning that things were changing before his eyes. We are all in this together. We probably were all surprised at the rapid onset and changes this disease has brought to our homes.

            As budgets are locked down and events are canceled, we are all worried about the impact on our industry and even our personal lives. Will this lead to job losses? What does it mean to the industry we love so much?

            None of us know what happens next but we do know that as long as people are able to play sports and participate in sports, they will come back.

            The events that are canceled or postponed will eventually reschedule when all the worry, fear and panic eases.

            Hang in there. In the meantime, do your share. Check on elderly relatives and make sure they have medicine, food, and other essentials. Stay home if you are sick. Encourage others to take a break from spreading disease by encouraging better personal habits.

            I saw a Facebook post last week that reminded all of us that hand washing was cool before it became mandatory. Think about that!

            We will get through this together. We will rebound. Sports will survive.

Editor’s Note:The thoughts and opinions of this blog post are my own and not influenced by others.