An Idea for Professional Sports League During the COVID-19 Pandemic

  • NBA could have all the teams live in one community and play games in one arena. The teams would be separated for the most part from the rest of the community. The NBA could “rent” hotels or convention centers for whole season. The personnel would have to either not leave or be screened somehow. Or, perhaps the NBA could “rent” staff from hotels, restaurants, trainers, etc. and have them travel with the league.
  • It would be cool if fans could attend, but how could you insure they didn’t carry the virus? If cities created pop-up communities (like the idea above), the maybe the people living in these pop-up communities could attend the games.
    • One alternative: Create a segmented screen that would be in the stands. Individual fans could broadcast their reactions at home. Could they also connect and combine all the sounds made by the individual fans? If this were an episode of Black Mirror, holograms/avatars representing each fan could be sitting in the stands.
    • Fans could pay to be in virtual stands. As a benefit, maybe they could ask questions to coaches and players—and they would be the only ones to have access to this. They could receive a program from the game, maybe autographed items, etc. Basically, this would be a way for the league to make-up for lost revenue.
  • Alternative to fans: NBA and other leagues could charge a fee for streaming?
  • To benefit multiple cities, the NBA could stay for a month in one city. (Remember all the teams would be living there.)
  • Logistics may be too difficult, but the NBA could think of shortening the season and running a modified version during the summer or at least make plans to do this next year. Also, in a shortened season, it would be cool if they had a Final Four type format—do or die, one game playoffs—maybe letting everyone in.
  • Downsides
    • NBA players would be away from their families for a long time, unless their families could accompany them. (With schools being out, it might be feasible.)

NFL should be thinking about this already. The NFL has way more players, though, so this would be a challenge. One cool side effect is the economic benefits—to the city they’re in and/or the staff they bring.

Could this concept apply in other situations? For example, what about musicians? Theater? Movies? I liked the idea of a group setting up in one city/community and hiring or generating a lot of economic activity as a result.

15 thoughts on “An Idea for Professional Sports League During the COVID-19 Pandemic

  1. It’s kind of absurd because of the resources needed to pull this off for just sports, but one thing I like about it is that the leagues could play anywhere — they wouldn’t need a huge stadium or arena. Like what if all of MLB played in SkyDome, and everyone just lived in the hotel that’s in the dome itself? Or the NFL could go somewhere really remote, like some high school field in Kansas.

    And since they’d all be playing in one place, why not temporarily rename themselves after cities who never have pro sports teams? The Honoululu Rams and the Helena Vikings, for example. 🙂

  2. It’s kind of absurd because of the resources needed to pull this off for just sports,…

    On one level, I agree with you, but you know how some say that sports is a valuable reprieve? This effect is more real to me now in the current times we live in. Also, if this allows more people to keep their jobs, that’s not a small thing.

    but one thing I like about it is that the leagues could play anywhere — they wouldn’t need a huge stadium or arena.

    I was aware that the leagues could play almost anywhere, but, for some reason, I forgot that the capacity of the stadium/arena was a non-factor. That’s a good point. At the same time, I would think you’d want to have living quarters close to the playing and practice areas (like the Houston example). Preferably the location that would allow the teams and the people that served them would be isolated from the larger population.

    And since they’d all be playing in one place, why not temporarily rename themselves after cities who never have pro sports teams? The Honoululu Rams and the Helena Vikings, for example. 🙂

    I thought of teams playing in parts of the country they would never play in, but I never thought of renaming the teams. I’m not that enthused about that. However, your suggestion evoked another idea–suppose the leagues made teams compromised of different players–essentially new teams. I’m not sure why or how they would do that…maybe for leagues with too many teams, they’d have to reduce the number and they could make new teams. In that situation, I think your idea would work.

    On another note, I think what I’m saying would be really hard for the NFL–at least the notion of having all the teams in one area. Maybe they could have AFC teams in one city and the NFC teams in another. Even then that might be tough. Could you find enough practice fields?

    Also, unlike some other sports, I don’t think combing players to make new teams would be a good idea. In that scenario, the games wouldn’t really count, but the players would be risking their careers. If this risk was low, I’d love the idea of reducing the number of NFL teams and making “super teams.” You could shorten the season, but still have the playoffs and a Super Bowl. I would really be interested in watching that.

  3. There’s something I didn’t realize until MItchell brought up the way players could play in small venues. The small venues may not be so good for the players, as the stage of their play will seem tiny versus the grand sense they get at regular stadiums. But for fans watching TV this won’t have to be the case if the league can digitally create a huge stadium around the playing area. In this digital recreation, real fans sitting at home could project themselves into specific seats. (Maybe they could pay a small fee to do this.) A bunch of friends could pay to “sit” together. and during the game, a small screen could show all of them sitting.

    I’m not sure if this could be done, but it would be cool if the league could take the sound the fans make at home and blend them and play it at the actual game. (It could get kinda loud in people’s homes, which would be annoying for neighbors.)

    For players, I wonder if they could erected huge screens that surround the playing area and then create the fans sitting in the audience.

  4. I don’t know about you guys, but I’m feeling pessimistic about the prospects of an NFL season. I also feel like offseason preparation will be very limited, so even if the season proceeds, the quality of the games will suffer. All of this dampens my enthusiasm for these offseason moves. My favorite teams may get good players, but if the season is cancelled, or the teams can’t really prepare as much, it’s hard to be really excited about these moves.

    What are some scenarios that would allow the league to continue?

    1. I’m not pessimistic, but honestly I’m okay if we don’t get football this year. It’s a new normal, perhaps for quite a while, and if that normal means no sports, I think we can be distracted by other things we love.

      Many years ago, a fantasy baseball magazine I read asked its experts to draft fantasy teams for some season that had already passed. Say this happened in 2000; they asked the experts to draft fantasy teams for the 1998 season, already knowing all the final stats.

      You’d expect the 10-team league to finish just about even from top to bottom, but it didn’t (this was rotisserie style, not head-to-head style). The standings actually didn’t differ much from standings in any other year.

      Anyway I think it’s something some fantasy service could do if we don’t have football. Have a regular fantasy football draft for, say, 1999. We might have to put in new rules for free agent pickups, but maybe not! It might be fun just to see how it plays out. If we know ahead of time that player X has a monster game in week 6, which of us bids on him in the auction? Or who picks him up in free agency, and how far in advance? 🙂

      Also, you could conceivably play the whole season in one week, and have a new auction every week for the following week, using a different year each week.

    2. I’m not pessimistic,…

      You mean you think there’s a good chance the NFL season will take place?

      Anyway I think it’s something some fantasy service could do if we don’t have football.

      This doesn’t appeal to me all that much. All the answers are out there–it’s just a matter of who is willing to put in the time to find them. And many people, including myself, would not be willing to put in the time. With normal fantasy football, study matters to, but ultimately the productivity of the players, prior to the games, are unknown. Players come out of nowhere; and some players that one expects to do well disappoints.

  5. Have you heard about the Arizona Plan MLB is considering? It’s been all over sports news these past few days (because what else are they going to talk about?). It’s pretty close to your idea. And the Korean baseball league is doing something like it too.

    1. No, I haven’t. I’ll try to check it out. (If you have a good link, let me know.)


      After reading an ESPN article on this, here are some thoughts off the top of my head:

      1. Some players with family were wary of the idea, which is understandable. One way to make the idea more palatable to these players is to shorten the season. To me, you have to essentially isolate the players, coaches, staff, and all the people providing services to them. That is a massive undertaking, and part of this involves the commitment of everyone involved to live this way. Asking them to live like for 2-4 months may be more palatable. Obviously, this is less than ideal, but it’s likely better than cancelling the entire season.

      2. With the way New Zealand has had success flattening the curve, I wonder if being on an island was the key to this. Specifically, an island makes it easier to control or prevent people from entering into a given space. With that in mind, I thought of the NFL (or any sports league) going to an island, like one of the islands on Hawai’i. I kind of like the idea of Lana’i, as you could really isolate all the people on the island and control who comes in and out of the island. But the problem would be facilities. O’ahu or another island would be more feasible, and if the teams would play without spectators, they could find a playing field.

      If not an island, maybe the NFL or league could go to a more remote location on the continental U.S. Ideally it would be somewhere with good weather.

      1. The absolute best explication I’ve seen (and I’ve seen several) came before most of the backlash, because I think it hit the general awareness first: the ESPN Daily pocast from April 7.

        Jeff Passon came out of nowhere for me a year or so ago, but he’s turning into my third-favorite person to hear talk about baseball (behind Kurkjian and Olney).

        1. By the way, if you don’t listen to this podcast I highly recommend it. It’s bite-sized and it’s very well done. I really liked today’s episode about Darko Milicic’s post-NBA life. It’s really sweet.

    2. I listened to the Jeff Passan podcast. It was informative, but I don’t think think I have anything to add.

  6. I love the MLB playoff idea Passan suggests below.

    When they mentioned the idea, another thought came to mind: What if pro leagues had two seasons during a year, instead of one? I specifically had the NBA in mind. Some believe there season is too long. Of course, if you shortened it, that would mean less revenue. But what if you had two shorter seasons at two different points in the year? What if one season is a more like a tournament that Passan describes and the other is like more like a normal regular season, only shorter? For the tournament season I like the idea of creating a one-and-done March Madness style tournament. If there were a way give winners some sort of advantage in the next season that would be interesting, but I’m not sure how that can be done.

    For the NFL, I’m not sure this would be viable. On the other hand, if you a shorter season might be physically better for the players. They’re playing fewer games, and if the span between seasons is long enough, they would have time to recover. (Then again, they’d have to go to two training camps, which seems unappealing.)

    One potential problem: Which season would be the more meaningful of the two? What could happen is that one will be seen as more important. Then how do you make the other meaningful? Why would players want to risk injury for the less meaningful one?

  7. Peter King had an interesting interview with Dr. Fauci.

    There’s two quotes from Fauci that illustrate why I’ve been pessimistic about the NFL season.

    “Suppose,” I asked, “you test a team of 53 players on a Saturday night and four are positive. Is there a level at which—”

    Fauci, the director of the National Institutes for Health since 1984, interrupted. “You got a problem there,” he said. “You know why? Because it is likely that if four of them are positive and they’ve been hanging around together, that the other ones that are negative are really positive. So I mean, if you have one outlier [only one player testing positive], I think you might get away. But once you wind up having a situation where it looks like it’s spread within a team, you got a real problem. You gotta shut it down.”

    Shut it down. Quarantine the team, he means. For 14 days. The next two games for that team? Cancelled or postponed. That could be life in the NFL in 2020.

    I guess if the NFL gets the greenlight to play, the infection rate will be low enough that four players on a team testing positive would be a relatively low probability. If not–if this is a 50/50 proposition–I’m not sure the season would be even having–or it would be really frustrating to basically suspend a team’s play for two weeks. Imagine if this happened during the playoffs or the Super Bowl. What would the league do then?

    “If you really want to be in a situation where you want to be absolutely certain, you’d test all the players before the game. And you say, Those who are infected: Sorry, you’re sidelined. Those who are free: Get in there and play.”

    Whether the NFL could or would do this is another question. But suppose they did. What if a key play like the QB tested positive the night before? And again, what if this happened during the playoffs or before the Super Bowl? Purely from a fan’s perspective this would utterly suck.

    Maybe most fans don’t care. Maybe the NFL doesn’t care that some fans will feel the same–and so they’ll play the season under these conditions. It would be a downer for me as a fan, though.

    By the way, this is why, for me, if the NFL (or any league) is going to play a season, they’ve got to take the steps to ensure the above situations are low probabilities. And to me, that involved quarantining entire teams, playing at one stadium, etc.–or something close to that.

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