empty seats in an empty sports stadium

Sports analysts, bettors and journalists who cover sports are seeing major changes for Easybet sports betting as the games restart. Empty seats in the stands is only the first indication that things won’t be the same for quite some time. What changes has COVID-19 brought to the world of sports?

When sporting events were originally cancelled en masse in March 2020, it was assumed that “normalcy” would return slowly, but that, one way or another, people could rely on a return to normal sooner, rather than later. But, as COVID-19 cases spread through teams, games were canceled and players chose to sit out training camps and games rather than risk contracting the virus, it’s become clear that the sports world must prepare for a new model. 

Some of the changes that leagues, players, the media and spectators can expect to see the sports world include:

Olympics

The Olympics may cease to be held as a mass spectator event which means that the huge building projects that hosting the Olympic Games once meant will end. Future Olympics will likely be dramatically reduced in size which will, in turn, downsize college athletic departments.

In the short run, the International Olympic Committee has said that the 2020 Olympics, which were cancelled in 2020, will take place next year “with or without COVID.” John Coates, president of the Australian Olympic Committee, named the event the “games that conquered COVID.” "The Games were going to be their theme, the Reconstruction Games after the devastation of the tsunami," Mr Coates said, referring to 2011 catastrophic tsunami in Japan. "Now very much these will be the Games that conquered Covid, the light at the end of the tunnel."

Tokyo 2020 chief executive Toshiro Muto will probably "simplify" its opening and closing ceremonies and reduce the number of staff and delegations from each country. More than 11,000 athletes were scheduled to take part in the 2020 Games.

Japan's borders are currently largely closed to foreign visitors so it’s not clear how travel restrictions might impact their participation. Muto has said that a vaccine will not be a prerequisite for the Games but health experts have said that they doubt whether the Games could be held without a vaccine.

"If a vaccine is ready, that will be a benefit, but we're not saying we can't hold the event without it - it's not a precondition," Muto said. 

Risk to Athletes

As games held during the summer already demonstrated, athletes are vulnerable as anyone else to getting sick with COVID-19. However, the nature of team sports is that athletes are in close proximity to each other during training and gameplay as well as during pre-game and post-game sessions. That means that they are at increased risk of contagion. 

Around the world, universities have suspended numerous athletic programs and multiple championship games have been cancelled. The NHL and NBA  limped through the end of their shortened 2020 seasons while the MLB saw a summer during with 7 teams were forced to postpone games due to COVID-19 outbreaks including the Miami Marlins who saw 17 of their team members test positive.    

Now the NFL season has begun and observers worry that the players’ size and weight make them more vulnerable to negative effects of the coronavirus than athletes of any other type of sport. Particularly telling is the league’s refusal to classify players with a body mass index (BMI) of over thirty as part of the at-risk group. This group now doesn’t have any opt-out benefits but the NFL has, in effect, confirmed that a huge percentage of its players do, in fact, fit into the at-risk category.

That means that it’s only a matter of time until someone falls seriously ill – or worse.

Fan Experience

Some sporting event – for instance tennis and auto-racing, which have a higher inherent degree of social distancing, may actually benefit from the pandemic situation since their events can take place pretty much as usual.  Contact sports, which are the most popular type of sporting events, are being more closely monitored.

But across the board, the fan experience for the bettors and spectators is being altered. The sports world can simply not afford to hold events where one infected person could potentially infect dozens, or even hundreds, of others. That means that sports commentators and broadcasters will need to put even more effort into making their broadcasts as “you are there” as possible while fans and sports bettors must learn to make their assessments based on information that’s passed digitally.

Management will be closely monitoring the adjusted viewing habits of fans as well as the wagering habits of the sports bettors. Fans’ willingness to place bets and spend money on tickets to games, even after a coronavirus vaccine emerges, will be critical in determining how the leagues and teams will operate in the coming years.  

If nothing else, erecting stadiums such as the new Dallas Cowboys’ 105,000-seat AT&T Stadium – which cost more than $1 billion to build -- is almost certain to be a thing of the past. 

College Sports

Many observers believe that one of the first real changes may take place among college players who now understand how much value their performance holds. They will likely feel empowered to demand real compensation that they can take to the bank – something that till has now, eluded the college sports world.

College sports departments are already starting to see indications that athletes are prepared to push for a cut of the money that sporting events bring in.  Players may also be looking for a seat at the table in the decision-making processes and the college sports departments will be hard-pressed to deny them these opportunities.

Soccer

Some of the most vulnerable sports organizations involve soccer clubs which are under tremendous financial stress and may collapse. First-tier leagues created bubbles in Florida (MLS) and in Utah (NWSL) so that they could adapt themselves to the situation and continue with their month-long tournaments. Thus far, they have weathered the first months’ storms but, more than the big leagues who have lucrative TV contracts, the lack of game-day revenue is killing them.

A number of  clubs are already hinting that they’re on their way toward insolvency and no one will be surprised if that spreads.

Media

The  teams and leagues have been able to implement policies of limited access to the media but some analysts say that the lack of face-to-face contact with players and coaches is impacting negatively on sports journalists. Journalists need direct contact to ensure the quality and nuance of their reports and, lacking that. They are already complaining that their reports aren’t as thorough or engaging as they should be and will not be pleased if they don’t regain that contact in the future. .

Betting

The biggest challenge facing sports betting involves scheduling. In short, schedules are anyone’s guess. One of the biggest obstacles, of course, involves cancelled games but even if no more games are cancelled – hard to imagine – the skewed timetable makes it hard for anyone to plan.

For example, if all goes according to plan, the MLB will start its season as usual in April but its games will be taking place at the same time as the games of other leagues which have delayed the openings of their 2020/2021 seasons. Another example -- the 2020/2021 NBA season, which normally starts in October, is scheduled to begin only in January 2021  because the 2020 season is ending in October.  

So…the NBA players won’t be available to represent the USA in the men’s basketball competition at the 2021 Olympics – which was itself postponed from summer 2020. And that, in turn, throws off the whole Olympics basketball competition. 

Sportsbooks will be hard pressed to adjust timelines and future projections accordingly as scheduling changes across the board.  

2020 will be remembered for many things including its impact on American sports scene.

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