How Sports Leagues Have Been Impacted By COVID-19


Hunter King, Staff Member

Reading Time: 4 minutes

On Wednesday, March 11, an unprecedented moment captured the world’s attention and sports stopped. The NBA Wednesday night matchup between the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Utah Jazz was going as scheduled when just moments before tipoff, the Thunder’s head medical staffer Donnie Strack came sprinting onto the court in a panic. He told the referees that French-native, and Jazz center, Rudy Gobert had tested positive for COVID-19 and that the game should be stopped. After a call to the league office and Commissioner Adam Silver, not only was that game postponed, but all NBA games would be suspended until further notice.


That set off a chain reaction. The next leagues would be the MLB, XFL, NFL offseason activities, UFC, WWE with fans in attendance, and the NCAA Basketball Tournament or more famously known as March Madness. It was not only a big blow to fans of these leagues but to the wallets of the executives and business partners with teams in each league. It is estimated that $160 billion, yes with a “B,” has been crushed by the coronavirus pandemic in the sports world. For some, it ruined the hopes of winning under the bright lights. The NCAA Tournament is arguably one of the biggest tournaments in the world, and it’s a golden opportunity for college athletes to show their abilities on national TV. 


East Tennessee State head coach Steve Forbes had waited for months to hear his team’s name called on “Selection Sunday.” The team was projected to be a 10 seed after winning their conference and was looking forward to turning some heads to the Buccaneers of East Tennessee State. But after the NBA fiasco, the hand was forced and the tournament was canceled. Forbes was devastated. 


“I’m heartbroken for our players,” Forbes said. “We care about the safety of everyone first and foremost. But we went from the euphoria of knowing we’re going to be playing in the NCAA tournament, with memories that last a lifetime, to the disappointing feeling of (cancellation).” 


For some, the pandemic has been a nuisance, but not much of a problem to the product of the game. The NFL, whose seasons last from September to February, just missed the pandemic by a month. The league has noted offseason activities like scouting and free agency will have to be done remotely. Perhaps the biggest news is the NFL Draft, which is usually held in big venues, will still continue, but remotely. The commissioner of the NFL, Roger Goodell, will make the announcements of each pick from his basement and it will be broadcasted live to what is expected to be the highest watched professional sports draft ever since it is the closest thing to sports that fans will get for the foreseeable future. 


As for the other professional football league, which was in its first season when the pandemic hit, the XFL has suspended all football operations and fired all staff. The XFL, which is owned by the billionaire and WWE founder Vince McMahon, had a phenomenal first week when it debuted some innovative football and put up good TV ratings. However, TV ratings continued to drop over the five weeks they were able to play and not being able to finish the season due to the virus didn’t help either. The XFL has no plans to return next year according to ESPN. But if you look at the bright side, the XFL has kept top executives and some say it is possible that the league could return in the spring of 2022. 


“America’s Pastime,” Major League Baseball, has postponed the start of their season until health officials give them the okay to start. The spring training, preseason games were already underway in Florida and Arizona when the league decided to postpone. Opening Day was set for the end of March, typically the most attended few days during an MLB regular season. ESPN’s Jeff Passan has reported that the league has been planning for worst-case scenarios like possibly not being able to play at all this season, although again, that’s the worst possible outcome. An MLB longtime reporter Bob Nightengale said the MLB is also preparing to realign divisions and have teams face each other in spring training ballparks without fans, once they get the go-ahead from health officials. 


If you are a big sports fan, it can feel a little empty on the inside. For many, sports is a way to distract them for three or four hours each day from the stresses in life. Leagues like the NBA have understood the need for entertainment and have aired an NBA 2K20 video game tournament on ESPN. The league is also preparing a game of H.O.R.S.E. with some of the biggest names in the league like Chris Paul and Trae Young. NASCAR has also aired a virtual race competition on FOX Sports 1 as part of their plan to try and fill the void. 


It’s unclear when sports will start back up, or if fans will want to attend the games anymore, or how leagues will suffer from their losses, but they share a common goal and that’s worrying about the people and not the game or money. President Trump urged NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to “hurry up” and get back to playing, but Silver said he will not allow anything to happen until the health officials tell him it is safe to. 

While sports leagues are on a hiatus, Cy Falls Publications is continuing to do our best to release relevant, interesting, and informative articles for you to read throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Click here for facts and details on the virus from the CDC.