How Sports Leagues are Responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic

by Prineet Prahar ’23

Source: pulse.seattlechildrens.org

This sports industry has been greatly threatened by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Emsi, 1.3 million jobs were either furloughed, the practice of temporarily laying off workers, or erased. Leagues and organizations were losing hundreds of thousands of dollars per day with no guaranteed future.
Despite all the major North American sports leagues responding differently, they all pushed their season back while the world was still trying to stay safe and assess the severity of the virus. The NBA, WNBA, NHL and NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League) paused their seasons for a few months. The MLB pushed back their spring training period while the NFL canceled their pre-season all together. These drastic moves indicated that it would be a while before play in any major sport would resume.
Basketball was one of the first sports to return. The NBA organized “the bubble” at the Walt Disney World Resort, where the NBA and players would live, practice, and play. The IMG Academy hosted “the wubble”, a similar concept, but for the WNBA. There is very little doubt that these concepts have been successful, as there hasn’t been a reported case of COVID-19 in the bubble since July 13.
Women’s Soccer also adopted a bubble-like concept in Utah. Unlike professional basketball however, the journey to the end wasn’t all smooth sailing. The whole Orlando Pride team dropped out as COVID-19 cases spiked due to media access within the isolated area. When restrictions were implemented, the number of cases trended downward and the league was able to crown the Houston Dash as 2020 Champions.
The NHL did something similar by organizing a “dual-bubble” setup where 24 teams were separated into two different campuses in both Toronto and Edmonton, Canada. This was also widely successful as there were 33,174 tests conducted yielding 0 positive tests.
The NFL, however, decided to go in a different direction. Teams were still going to travel the country together, but with testing being done on each player every single day. This meant that there were little to no formal restrictions on what players could do while not at practice or playing games. This led to 11 Tennessee Titans players testing positive, the first major outbreak in the NFL. This has created several butterfly effects as the Titans had to move their game with the Pittsburgh Steelers to 5 weeks in the future, thus messing up the complicated schedule that NFL schedule makers devised in the offseason.
Finally, the MLB is using a hybrid of the aforementioned options. For the MLB playoffs, the players are organized into a bubble where they play, but for the regular season, they were traveling across the country. This model has led to at least 20 cases of COVID-19 being reported within the Miami Marlins franchise. The league has been able to dial this back with more testing and strict punishments for breaking protocols
COVID-19 has impacted our day-to-day lives, but with the right systems and strictly-adhered-to guidelines, organizations can still keep sports as one constant in all of our lives.

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