COVID-19 Spike Could Disrupt Major League Sports’ 2020 Season Plans

As the coronavirus spiked in summer 2020, many commentators worried about whether sports would resume in the Fall. Von Miller has recovered from the coronavirus, but The Rockies’ Charlie Blackmon got it days before this article was written. Nuggets big man Nikola Jokic, too. If professional athletes can take all the available precautions and contract the virus anyway, what does that mean for other athletes, fans, and staff?

How The Coronavirus Returned With A Vengeance

COVID-19 never disappeared, but hot spots like New York were beginning to get the virus under control. Coronavirus hospitalizations dropped below 1,000 admissions, and less than 1.5% of Queens’ and the Bronx’s coronavirus tests are testing positive. New York reached these milestones because it opened slowly to control the virus’ spread.

In contrast, states like Texas let businesses reopen too soon. Texas Governor, Greg Abbot, initially rejected a rule that would allow businesses to fine customers who didn’t wear facemasks–a rule he’s since reconsidered and approved. Consequently, hospitals in Houston are getting ready to be overrun with coronavirus cases because of Governor Abbot’s decisions.

And there are six other states that are becoming hotspots like Texas.

How Sports Leagues Are Handling The New Outbreaks

At the beginning of 2020, COVID-19 shut sports leagues down across the country. Seasons were cancelled and delayed throughout March to keep athletes, staff, and fans safe. The lull in coronavirus cases led sports to reschedule. Once concrete dates for sports emerged, there was hope for some return to normalcy.

However, even if all the players trained in bubbles, they’d still be exposed to a wide web of people who can spread the virus. In fact, the New Orleans Pelicans wouldn’t play in March because one of the referees had worked a game that Rudy Gobert played in. Gobert had tested positive before the Pelicans game, and no one wanted to take any chances.

One person can quarantine their own team and any teams that have played with them in previous weeks. Are the Rockies seriously going to risk a much-needed Astros rematch in 2020? Will any team return in the face of rising coronavirus cases?

Which Colorado Sports Are Wavering?

The ugliest spat about returning comes from Major League Baseball. The MBL Players Association and the MLB have been negotiating player salaries as part of a return to play deal. The Players Association wanted its players to be paid pro-rated salaries from the cancelled season. The MLB Commissioner, Rob Manfred, agreed, but the deal fell apart shortly after that. Manfred wanted a 60-game season, and players wanted a 70-game season. Within a week, Manfred imposed a 60-game season with no signed agreement between him and the MLB Players Association.

Oh, and players and staff are contracting the coronavirus.

And Rob Manfred is on record saying he’s unsure whether they’ll be a baseball season this year.

That raises serious questions about whether baseball is really coming back at the end of July.

It’s Not Just Baseball

While the other professional leagues aren’t in the middle of public spats like this, the country’s new hotspots are states with big sports cities:

  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • North Carolina
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Texas

Several of these states have major sports teams trying to train in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. In Texas, the Houston Astros are scheduled to train at Minute Maid Park, where the largest medical center in the world is on track to be overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases.

The NFL’s first scheduled Denver Broncos game is against the Tennessee Titans. If the virus infects Titans staff, there may not be a Titans game for the Broncos–or any NFL team–to play against. A Phoenix Suns/Denver Nuggets matchup seems less likely in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak. Anyone think the Kings and the Avs are going to play if California continues struggling with coronavirus containment?

These teams could lose their rescheduled seasons to COVID-19’s resurgence in their home states and cities. If the virus isn’t contained where they train, then they may be too risky to play with. If team and staff members are lucky enough to avoid contracting the virus, the teams could still play. However, that would require testing that states are still struggling to acquire.  

Doctors’ Confidences Are Wavering, Too

Doctors have serious concerns about whether sports will–or should–return in 2020. Dr. Anthony Fauci cast his doubts about whether the NFL would resume in 2020. There are two variables that will be important for sports to return in the fall.

The first is the virus’ infection level and containment in the Fall. If infection rates are lowered and new outbreaks are controlled, it’s possible for the community to be safe enough to resume sports.

However, the second variable is the annual flu season that would coincide with sports’ return. A normal flu season can hospitalize anywhere between 140,000 and 960,000 people. The flu mutates so rapidly and sporadically that a flu’s severity really can vary that widely. In Fall 2020, those hospitalizations would add to both non-COVID-19 patients staying in hospitals and the influx of COVID-19 patients threatening to overrun hospitals before flu season has even begun.

The impact of the 2020 flu season on our COVID-19 response remains unknown. However, the current response to coronavirus containment is still within our control. If there’s any hope for sports returning in the Fall, it’s in states’ responses to the coronavirus outbreak.

How Will Colorado Sportsbooks Cope?

If the coronavirus outbreak continues unabated, it’s unlikely that professional sports will return Fall 2020. The best that players can do is mitigate their risk of catching COVID-19, as Charlie Blackmon’s and Von Miller’s infections show.

That’ll mean fewer choices at Colorado’s sportsbooks. Russian table tennis and the Modus Icons of Darts weren’t sportsbooks staples because they were more riveting than basketball. There were just no popular options. Soccer has made a comeback in recent months, but Americans crave football, baseball, basketball, and hockey. Sportsbooks will lose revenue and traffic for another season, which will set sportsbooks–and several casino partners–back financially.

All they can do is take one day at a time. Even a week is an eternity during the pandemic when state policies take weeks to demonstrate their effectiveness–or ineffectiveness, in the case of the South and West–at containing the coronavirus. The polices that deemphasize a robust response to the coronavirus not only hurts communities, but also prevent sportsbooks from operating normally.

Sportsbooks have been working with fewer sports and lower traffic than any of them could’ve predicted when the Supreme Court overturned PASPA in 2018. Colorado’s sportsbooks don’t just depend on Colorado. They depend on pandemic control outside of Colorado, too. Colorado’s sportsbooks will depend on other states’ COVID-19 responses. Hopefully, they get their states back under control for the sake of sportsbooks and the people who live in those hot spots.  

About the Author

Christopher Gerlacher

Christopher Gerlacher is a freelance writer tucked into the foothills in Colorado Springs. He works as a content writer, a professional resume writer, and authors search engine optimized professional articles in multiple industries.