As the coronavirus continues its arc through the American and international landscapes, its effects form a two-stage rocket that have huge ramifications for sports, here and abroad. The virus is creating the possibility for the realization of a futuristic state of near-dystopia, one in which television cameras rule the day.
The longer COVID-19 holds its grip, the more likely the realization of such unfortunate — even if temporary — change.
Wimbledon is the latest major sports event that has been canceled for the safety of the players and the masses, the first time that has happened since World War II. The significance of that is this: It was scheduled for the end of June through the middle of July.
That’s halfway through the summer. If premier events are done for in July, what does that say for baseball and, particularly, for football?
At some point over the summer, it’s imaginable that life in the United States might begin to find some bits of normalcy. People might begin to feel more comfortable going out to eat or going to a movie or gathering with a few friends who are feeling well or going into the office to get some work done. And government officials might feel more at ease allowing them to do so.
What a relief that would be.
That’s stage 1.
Stage 2 is a different beast. It entails gaining enough comfort to load into a stadium with 60,000 strangers to watch a game, to yell and scream for the home team to win. Anybody think that seems a good idea? Without the protection of medical gear, rubber suits, gloves, goggles?
At this stage in the arc, that’s difficult to see happening.
Imagine sitting next to the guy who’s had season tickets alongside you for the past 20 years, and he’s scarfing a hot dog, wiping mustard off his face, letting loose with an occasional cough and a big-old sneeze. How you going to react to that?
Is the person with allergies, unable to hold in his droplets, going to be viewed as the devil himself?
It makes you wonder if the fate of some retail stores, befallen by online orders and delivery, will extend to teams and sports and leagues with large arenas and stadiums, venues that could remain empty because people don’t want to take the chance to attend, at least not until this virus is eradicated.
Fifty years ago, golfer Lee Trevino looked around at the television cameras following him as he was contending for a golf championship in some warm-weather location and, paraphrasing here, he said those cameras were the future of the sport. That’s where the money would be. It wasn’t in and from the people in Polo shirts and Bermudas lining the fairways and surrounding the greens, the paying customers in the gallery. It was the people looking in from their TV dens in Cleveland and Rochester and Seattle and Minneapolis and Baltimore and Salt Lake City.
It conjured, all the way back then, the idea that sports competitions, especially those at the highest levels, might one day be played in empty stadiums, on empty courses, in empty buildings, with almost nobody in attendance. That, naturally, was an exaggeration. The ambience of any kind of sports event was, is and always will be enhanced by a crowd. It affects the play on the floor, court and diamond in ways that go beyond aesthetics. Fans in the stands are more than a backdrop for television.
But in a strange circumstance like the one that plagues the world now, maybe the whole thing has edged closer to enjoying sports from a distance, through a camera and a TV, phone, tablet, laptop or whatever. It’s always been handy to watch a game at home, with friends, with the refrigerator nearby, particularly now that the information that’s available that way brings a constant flow of details.
The gate is still hugely important to sports institutions. If college and pro football were to be postponed or canceled, not sure how that money would be made up. If it were possible to safely play those games, with cameras on hand, beaming the action to starved audiences in this country and others, at least a portion of that money could be generated.
As for the thousands of employees at arenas and stadiums, workers who make attending a live game so enjoyable, the ones who aren’t being compensated by the generosity of players and owners, their fates hang in the balance — along with the fates of fans who much prefer watching their sports in person, being there as a part of the competition, as a part of the experience.
Gathering some 60,000 of them in one place, as of right now, seems unlikely and unimaginable, short of virus numbers doing what they have yet to do in this country: plummet.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Big Show” with Jake Scott weekdays from 3-7 p.m. on 97.5 FM and 1280 AM The Zone.