Forget What Politicians Are Saying: Fans, League PR Officials Are Worried About Returning Too Soon

Fans seem more anxious to wear these than their favorite team’s jersey anytime soon.
Fans seem more anxious to wear these than their favorite team’s jersey anytime soon.
Photo: Getty

Sporting a LeBron James jersey as you truck up three to four flights of escalators at Staples Center to watch the King and his crew perform — or any sports team, for that matter — will likely not happen any time soon.


In fact, a former NFL team communications person told me that teams’ PR personnel are quietly questioning whether the season will take place at all, and what an NFL game would even look like without fans, while still being accessible via TV and livestream.

All of the concern could be moot, as it seems fans wouldn’t feel comfortable going to games in person before then, anyway.

According to a recent Seton Hall poll, 72 percent of respondents said they would not feel safe attending games until a vaccine for COVID-19 is available. That’s not exactly the type of thing the leagues, or its revenue-obsessed owners, are going to be happy to hear.

Like it or not, many will get a taste of what a virtual fan experience could look like when the NFL holds its draft later this month.

Over the weekend, one of the top trending topics on Twitter was “Fall 2021” which was tied to a comment from Dr. Zeke Emanuel, Director of the Healthcare Transformation Institute at the University of Pennsylvania, stating he doesn’t believe large gatherings such as concerts and sporting events will take place before fall 2021.

“When people say they’re going to reschedule this conference or graduation event for October 2020, I have no idea how they think that’s a plausible possibility,” Emanual told The New York Times. “I think those things will be the last to return. Realistically we’re talking fall 2021 at the earliest.”


A study released Tuesday in Science Magazine supported Emanuel’s stance, but suggested the pandemic could last into 2022, requiring social distancing measures to be in place until then.

The study also showed that the flu’s rate of infection differs geographically, in New York versus Florida into the summer and Fall — which could also be the case for COVID-19 — wreaking havoc on the optics and execution of social-distancing measures across the country.


For instance, how would the leagues handle one city or region more strictly enforcing social-distancing measures, while other markets are held to and/or practicing looser guidelines?

To that question, there were reports earlier this month that the NBA was exploring the possibility of finishing the season in Las Vegas to avoid the nuances of different guidelines across the country. That plan seemed to fizzle out, however, while the UFC’s planned return on a native american casino outside of Fresno, Calif., and an unspecified island was shut down amid severe blowback.


It’s possible that all of these money-hungry leagues could survive a season without the revenue provided by live fans, but if the leagues’ stars, such as James, aren’t for it, their plans to return could face even further obstacles.

And, despite some optimistic talk from both sides of the aisle recently, that would mean waiting significantly longer until we can return to our old lives, where those four flights of escalators seem like a welcome inconvenience.