By: Jordan DeFigio
Amidst all the concern and questions surrounding the outbreak of COVID-19, we are all left to wonder – what does the future of football actually look like?
And the question burning in the hearts of all of Steeler Nation – will we be able to go to a Pittsburgh Steelers game and have it feel like a Pittsburgh Steelers game?
G. Stryker sat down with sports attorney Dan Lust to discuss the ramifications of the Coronavirus and its impact on the world of sports in the most recent episode of the SteelerNation.com Podcast. With the NBA looking to make significant progress towards resuming their season in Orlando, Lust explains how this proposal is even a possibility.
“When it comes to Florida, governor Ron Desantis made the decision. And what he said is…that what is essential to a particular state is the economy. And to the extent that professional sports can come play in a bubble, be it in Florida, which the NBA is looking at doing right now in Orlando because of Ron Desantis’s order, I can understand how allowing the NBA and all the players to move down in a bubble in the state of Florida, that would be essential for the economy. I could see that.”
The NHL is also looking to make a return in the next couple of months, and officially released its phase-based proposal to return to play this week with similar stipulations. The contending teams would gather in one of two “hub cities” and be required to comply by social distancing guidelines as much as possible. Leagues around the world are taking steps to return to action, if they haven’t already begun again.
The UFC, KBO, and now Bundeslega have all resumed events and play, but the European soccer league is doing so with one key piece of the puzzle missing.
“My understanding is that they’re playing in empty arenas. It’s the same type of situation, there’s no fans,” Lust said.
No fans. Empty arenas. Only the guys on the field running around, making plays and scoring goals in silence. This, of course, will be the case in the proposed return for both the NBA and the NHL. No fans permitted to attend. And the absence will be felt by all those watching, wherever it is they’re watching.
Could we find a loophole though? Perhaps, instead of being INSIDE the stadiums, people can gather OUTSIDE of them? Anything that would provide some semblance of normalcy? If the United States continues its approach of watch-and-learn to avoid being the guinea pig, this possibility doesn’t seem too likely either.
“The one piece of interesting note that came across my feed, so the Bundeslega is not allowing, obviously, fans in the stadiums, that’s I think only restricted to, I think Taiwan’s doing it, I think Korea might be doing it soon, but it’s not happening in Germany yet. But what they are not allowing, which, just be mindful for Steeler Nation, the Bundeslega is not allowing fans to congregate outside the stadium either. You could imagine for football games, maybe you’re not allowed in but maybe you had a thought that you’d like to tailgate outside and sit in the parking lot,” Lust said.
He added, “The German government made an announcement that the police would be ready to enforce these rules that fans would not be allowed to be outside.”
Though we have yet to see the return of organized team sports in any capacity, it is not at all far-fetched to believe that the guidelines put in place by other countries will be an outline that is used in America to follow in hopes of preventing a second wave of spike in cases.
Given all of the uncertainty surrounding the reopening of the country, we do know one thing – things will open again. Sports will return. Eventually games will be open to fans. Whether this season or a future one, people will fill the stands in some capacity. But what will that look like? Will social distancing remain a construct that we abide by even after the pandemic subsides? How can we manage that in stadiums full of tens of thousands of people, all drinking and yelling and existing so close to each other?
Stryker asks, “Should fans expect having to sign a waiver to attend a game?” The question in itself is a fair one, and it carries with it a limitless amount of follow-up questions.
Should fans WANT to sign waivers before attending games?
What are the risks involved with going to games?
Will anyone ever feel safe?
Will going to Heinz Field be worth it?
As is the case with anything in life, there is risk involved. That is not to minimize the aftermath and effects of the pandemic, because it is devastating beyond tangible calculation. But as Lust stated, each ticket contains a written disclaimer in some form or another, with all fans sharing the understanding that going to a game means exposing yourself to certain things. No matter the time, no matter the place – live events involve risk. According to Lust, it becomes a matter whether or not fans expose themselves to unknown risks by attending sporting events.
So what will people be willing to expose themselves to? What will people be willing to risk?
Will people be willing to risk their health, their safety, and potential exposure to a still rather new and unknown virus, just to attend a live event?
Your guess is as good as mine. But with how desperate so many of us are for normalcy, how much we long to be immersed in the tradition of a good Sunday tailgate with old and new friends, I’m guessing a substantial number of people will be willing to brave the crowds and cheer on the good guys in black and gold from a seat in the stands. And if they aren’t, well, then Roger Goodell has a few things to figure out.
The NFL has already started to wet its feet in the pool of virtual events, and may need to consider transitioning more of them to that format. Whether or not the season will have to start without fans in the stadiums has yet to be determined, but Goodell remains optimistic; he is operating as though everything will begin and run as it always has.
We’ve heard it said so many times the words are starting to lose their meaning; these are unprecedented times, with unexpected changes and unknown outcomes. It’s scary, it’s new, and it’s already taken so much from us. And with sports being an outlet for so many, an escape from the stressors and pressures of day-to-day life, we’re all itching for them to return in a capacity that allows us to escape to them, not just through them.
No matter how it looks or what it takes, we will get through this. We already ARE getting through this. And sports will be waiting for us on the other side, inviting us back in to the familiarity and comfort of game day sights and sounds. There will be a beer and a seat with my name on it. And I hope to share it with you.
What are your thoughts on the upcoming NFL season? Will fans be allowed to attend games? Sound off in the comments below!