• Villanova Sports Law Blog

Some Leagues' Attempts to Replace Live Sports Continue to Fall Short While Others Not Worth the Risk

By: Ian Daniels



Unless you recently have gotten into the loaded slate of games in the Russian ping-pong circuit, you, like most others, are probably trying to find a source of entertainment in your life to supplant live sports. Unfortunately, pundits and leagues have only been able to put together a list of lack-luster, sometimes outright silly, suggestions and events that we could only hope to satiate the public’s heightened hunger for live sporting events. In light of President Trump adding almost every major sports league’s commissioner to a council that will advise him on ending the coronavirus shutdown, we should take a look at the various ideas being thrown out there as an alternative to fan-packed stadiums during this time of self-quarantine. [1]


April 12th concluded, to put it bluntly, one of the worst attempts to keep fans engaged in the NBA’s grainy and lagging HORSE Tournament (Congrats to Mike Conley!). The idea is definitely a welcomed and novel one, but the execution left much more to be desired. The tournament that included retired and active NBA and WNBA stars took place at players’ homes over live stream. Despite the differing sizes of the “homecourts”, the players made do with what they could as they were mic’d up with their opponent. While not the participants’ faults, the quality of video was just too unwatchable to be enjoy. NBA sharpshooter JJ Redick tweeted “hard pass” after 5 min. [2] The attempt to keep basketball fans, or really fans of any sport, engaged came after a somewhat successful NBA 2K Tournament put on by NBA stars in which the winning player would donate a sum of money to charity. [3] Getting to watch Montrezl Harrell and Patrick Beverly talk smack over the mic was certainly entertaining, but the leaked scores and multiple blowouts tainted the experience.


Despite the NBA (and other leagues we would rather not get into) trying to keep athletes and fans engaged with simulated play, the American sports fan is really just looking for one thing: live games. Major League Baseball was set to be in full swing by now, and the NFL season is rapidly approaching. It follows that fans are looking to the future to gauge the likelihood of there actually being a season at all. Coupled with on-going UFC action and the cancelled NBA/NHL playoffs, more than a few ideas are being tossed around as alternatives to regularly scheduled games. ESPN commentator and former player Jay Williams discussed the possibility of playing the NBA Playoffs on cruise ships in which players, staff, and their immediate families would be tested before spending the duration of the postseason on a boat. [4] Pro Football Focus’s Mike Florio suggested the NFL playing in remote locations across the country in empty stadiums. [5] Major League Baseball is seriously considering starting the regular season in empty spring training stadiums. [6] UFC’s Dana White has already taken steps toward secluding fighters on an island and televising them. [7]

While novel, most of these ideas fail to take into account how serious things could get if a single person involved gets in contact with someone carrying COVID-19. Multiple NFL players, including Super Bowl MVP Von Miller, have now been diagnosed with the virus. [8] A lot of the ideas I mentioned involve large sums of people congregating in a single area. Take into account any training and medical staff needed to safely hold a game, coaching staff, and media crews to televise, you will quickly find that a lot of people go into making a televised sporting event run (and that is not even counting the players.) The UFC may only need two fighters and a referee, but an NFL 52-man roster would involve over a hundred people in one small area. If leagues allow players’ immediate family to join them, that number grows exponentially. It is just not feasible at this time to think about a professional sports league to come back during the nation’s lock-down. Every person involved would have to be tested multiple times over. How would the leagues even get food to the players? If they have to ship and cook it, that is even more human interaction needed and probably more tests. With tests being so hard to come by in many states as it is, professional leagues rewarding companies that are charging large sums for personal tests would only inflate the problem.


Everyone misses sports, but we cannot jump the gun here. It does not look like we will even be able to gather in stadiums until 2021 at this point, but it would make the problem far worse if an entire league suddenly fell victim to the epidemic because we were bored at home and league owners want to make some money. Sports will come back, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind of that. We have to hold fast for now if we are ever going to think about life getting back to normal for all of us, let alone our sports. Until it is safe to hold a large-scale production like a televised game, we will just have to continue to satisfy our need for sports by watching old games, documentaries, or Russian ping-pong).

References

[1] Jack Baer, Jerry Jones, Mark Cuban among owners and commissioners advising President Trump on re-opening country, Yahoo Sports, (Apr. 14, 2020), https://sports.yahoo.com/president-trump-reopen-country-commissioners-owners-nfl-mlb-nba-nhl-sports-234257795.html?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAABe7VYpSbwQ_bs4OkWYTgd1NCHegGEiPs85IXSDY7TFL8WK9kgG2enVXdFr9yrCLqBvTtZem0eunlRxwpvqCoh9MD3y490yF6kUceW-tpqcGoxKe2_eR2bWBG5sJjpi7RtqeKXlGFMT6wRXbl3GpJdf1QfB6Thk4X91DR2mWvRUl

[2] Dan Gartland, ESPN’s NBA H-O-R-S-E Competition Was Tough to Watch, Sports Illustrated, (Apr. 13, 2020), https://www.si.com/extra-mustard/2020/04/13/espn-nba-horse-tournament-highlights

[3] Duane Rankin, Devin Booker splitting $100,000 prize for NBA 2K Players Tournament win between charities, AZ Central, (Apr. 15, 2020), https://www.azcentral.com/story/sports/nba/suns/2020/04/15/devin-booker-splitting-prize-nba-2-k-tournament-win-charities/5139722002/

[4] Erik Gee, Williams Suggestion of Playing Games on Cruise Ships, not That Crazy, Sports Illustrated, (Apr. 1, 2020), https://www.si.com/nba/thunder/news/jay-williams-suggestion-of-playing-games-on-cruise-ships-not-that-crazy

[5] Mike Florio, Could an isolated coronavirus-free facility be only way for NFL to play in 2020?, Pro Football Focus, (March 29, 2020), https://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2020/03/29/could-an-isolated-coronavirus-free-facility-be-only-way-for-nfl-to-play-in-2020/

[6] Dan Santaromita, Major League Baseball reportedly considering starting season in empty spring training stadiums, NBA Sports, (Apr. 4, 2020), https://www.nbcsports.com/chicago/white-sox/major-league-baseball-reportedly-considering-starting-season-empty-spring-training

[7] Farah Hannoun, UFC files for trademarks around Dana White's planned 'Fight Island', MMA Junkie, (Apr. 17, 2020), https://mmajunkie.usatoday.com/2020/04/ufc-files-trademarks-fight-island-mma-legal-coronavirus

[8] Brakkton Booker, NFL Star Von Miller On His Coronavirus Diagnosis: 'I Was Shocked', NPR, (Apr. 17, 2020), https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/04/17/837024417/nfl-star-von-miller-on-his-coronavirus-diagnosis-i-was-shocked