Pro Leagues and the Pandemic

According to Stephen Varanko III, the NFL is uniquely suited to withstand the coronavirus pandemic, perhaps even more so than most professional sports in the U.S. While the NBA and NHL were forced to halt their regular seasons and the Major League Baseball had to pause spring training, the NFL was able to take a wait-and-see approach with its games.

According to CBS, teams that don’t host fans this year are still projected to lose, conservatively, $70 million in gate receipts. But the NFL derives the vast majority of its revenue from massive media rights deals — every team received $296 million in national revenue this year — and teams share some local revenue, with the salary cap adjusting annually based on those numbers.

Combine that with new gambling revenue streams and the fact that the league spans both the back-to-school and holiday shopping seasons that are so important to advertisers, and there is a big chance the NFL will continue to flourish post-pandemic.

However, as strong fiscally as the NFL should remain, there are significant changes and potential pitfalls that await both it and other leagues.

Collegiately, the pandemic has further exposed a business model built on the backs of unpaid laborers. With revenue streams disrupted in the money-generating sports of NCAA football and basketball, universities have been forced to slash budgets and, in many cases, eliminate non-revenue teams.

NBA and NHL arenas may need to be permanently reconfigured to move fans farther away from players and playing surfaces. And depending on how long fears over the virus and future pandemics last, NFL stadiums may look different in their next iteration, with more open space and smaller seating capacities.

Live arena scenarios could change for other reasons, too.

A number of experts foresee more open-air stadiums or retractable-roof venues in the future, where touchless amenities in common areas and deck spacing abound. Ingress and egress procedures will be different. There’s a chance that habits formed during the pandemic, when families invested in summer homes, swimming pools, and home reconstruction projects, will keep some people from stadiums all together.

While the virus has severely impacted people’s ability to watch games live, it has not reduced fans’ interest in sports. In fact, Stephen Varanko III believes that fans today may even be more enthusiastic about it.

Tags: COVID-19, pandemic, global health crisis, sports