Out of the Park: Coronavirus fears could gravely impact sports events

first_imgAlthough we live in a digital age where games are readily accessible on various streaming platforms, the in-stadium experience remains vital for many fans, especially for a once-a-year event like March Madness. Without fan presence at games, leagues won’t bring in nearly as much revenue and teams won’t enjoy the advantage that comes with having a loud home crowd. But go to a sporting event, and it’s largely business as usual … for now. Many runners at the Los Angeles Marathon exhibited a similar degree of nonchalance. More than 27,000 participants came from all 50 states and over 78 countries, so some were concerned the event could be a breeding ground for such a highly transmissible virus. Although it may be easy for some fans and athletes to brush off the coronavirus threat in favor of engaging with the sports they love, the implications of the virus to athletic competitions are serious. Furthermore, these athletes are used to competing in front of a large crowd — take the fans away and you might get the energy of an informal scrimmage rather than a high-stakes sporting event. It might even be difficult to convince players to play in desolate arenas — after the NBA told teams that they may have to prepare to hold games in empty arenas, Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James told reporters, “I play for the fans. That’s what it’s all about. If I show up to the arena and there ain’t no fans there, I ain’t playing.” The TV viewing experience would also change drastically, as broadcasts often excite an at-home audience with clips of screaming fans, and the occasional roaring of the crowd can draw a viewer’s attention to a great play. Despite all this, Frank Luna, a participant in the marathon, told the Los Angeles Times he wasn’t concerned about his health going into the race. The empty-stadium measure has also been a concern for fans of NCAA basketball as March Madness begins March 17. NCAA Chief Medical Officer Brian Hainline told the Wall Street Journal that the tournament will be played without spectators in the “worst-case scenario.” The NCAA is also considering cutting down the number of locations for the opening round games. Yes, the Wildcats’ stadium is an open-air venue, but that doesn’t change the fact that those 12,181 people were sitting, cheering, eating and drinking in close proximity. Moreover, the fans’ apparent lack of response to the coronavirus threat was an odd contrast to the widespread paranoia present on social media today. Several major sports organizations are reconsidering how to keep their games going while preventing fans and players from getting sick. On Monday, the NHL, NBA, MLB and MLS issued a joint statement saying that they are closing locker rooms and clubhouses to the media. The NHL and NBA have advised their players not to shake hands with or accept gifts from fans after games. “We are very disappointed that the tournament will not take place, but the health and safety of the local community, fans, players, volunteers, sponsors, employees, vendors and everyone involved with the event is of paramount importance,” tournament director Tommy Haas said in a statement.center_img “I get it; it’s out there,” he said. “But we’ve had, what, one person die in California? I think I have a better chance of winning the lotto multiple times than getting it, and it’s pretty damn hard to win the lotto.” After circling Dignity Health Sports Park a good three times and walking up and down the stands, I failed to find a single person with a mask.  In short, the implications are innumerable. For now, the 16 cases in L.A. County may seem to be an idle threat, hardly enough to wear a mask to a sporting event when you could be happily enjoying nachos or a beer instead. I attended the Los Angeles Wildcats XFL game Sunday and figured I’d have ample material for a story on fans’ concerns about coronavirus, especially given the news that a food vendor who worked the Feb. 22 Seattle Dragons game tested positive. So I set out to interview someone wearing a protective mask. I didn’t think it would be challenging to find interviewees at a game with 12,181 fans. If you go to any airport in the United States today you’ll come across people wearing masks to protect against COVID-19. Stanford University and the University of Washington have already transitioned to virtual classes as a precaution to prevent community transmission of the virus, with USC getting set to follow. While the NCAA has not yet canceled its college basketball tournament, other major sporting events are on the chopping block. The BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, Calif., was supposed to begin Monday, but its organizers announced Sunday that they would be postponing the tennis tournament indefinitely. But even if these events aren’t proven to spread the virus (at least not yet), the precautionary measures mandated by sports organizations could impact how games are played and consumed for months to come. Amanda Sturges is a sophomore writing about the impact of sports on society. She is also a features editor for the Daily Trojan. Her column, “Out of the Park,” runs every other Tuesday.last_img

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