Tailgates, gameday traffic, long restroom lines, and tens of thousands of people packed in stands sound crazy right now. And it should. But we could be living in a completely different world by September.
According to Pro Football Talk, the NFL “has a growing sense of optimism” for full stadiums in the fall of 2021. I want to be optimistic about the league’s optimism. I’m so tempted to see this as a grift to satiate season ticket holders and start selling seats early. It probably is, but let’s consider the legitimacy of the idea for a moment. If the league wants to fully open the gates this fall, they’ll have to hurdle a few big “if’s.”
If virus rates continue to dramatically plunge, if some sort of herd immunity is reached through inoculation, and if a majority of Americans actually agree to said inoculations in large numbers by summer’s end, then some sort of normalcy could be on the table.
How normal, you ask? Does that include “normal” sports spectacles? What even is “normal” anymore? Here’s what the top US expert on infectious disease recently said.
“As we get into the fall and winter, by the end of the year I agree with the president completely that we will be approaching a degree of normality,” Dr. Fauci told CNN on Sunday. But he also said, “if normality means exactly the way things were before we had this happen to us, I mean, I can’t predict that.”
The NFL can’t, and isn’t, predicting normality either. They’re just “optimistic.”
The league could, of course, just bulldoze their way through the what-ifs listed above and let the fans in, no matter what happens with COVID. I mean, they let the 2020 football season happen and that was one smooth operation, right? Who’s up for another round of Wednesday afternoon football? Or how about watching a wide receiver at QB?
But that might not happen again. The summer and fall of 2021 could actually look better than the years past. That is, if we keep infection rates down and some other variant doesn’t come to take us all. I mean, I don’t know, that could happen too! But Americans do say that they will feel more comfortable attending sporting events once they’ve received their COVID vaccine.
According to a January poll conducted by Seton Hall University, 40 percent of Americans say they are ready to attend an outdoor sporting event after they received a COVID vaccine. That’s up 13 percentage points from November, when the same poll was conducted. In the study, 57 percent of respondents who identified as “sports fans” say they are willing to attend an outdoor game after their vaccination. Still, 41 percent of respondents said they wouldn’t attend an outdoor sporting event even after their shot.
Bringing fans back into the stadium is a question the NFL will have to answer at some point. For now, they’re optimistic they can get back to capacity in September.
I definitely have my doubts, but a lot can happen in six months. Remember how quickly things changed around this time last year?