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How the Coronavirus Affects the Business Side of Sports

Tanner Lee '23 Assistant Sports Editor
For the last two and a half months, professional sports seasons have been postponed or cancelled due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Not to be able to watch our favorite players and teams compete for glory has been extremely boring for avid sports enthusiasts. And, not only are the fans hurting from the cancellations, but the professional sports leagues, such as the NBA, NHL, and MLB are quickly losing millions of dollars because their teams cannot compete and generate revenue for their organizations. In turn, many players are agreeing to take temporary pay cuts in order to help people like stadium workers who are no longer able to receive their paychecks. On the other hand, even though TV networks are not televising live sports, many are still showcasing games from earlier in the season or from past seasons, which is a big plus for sports fans.

The NBA was the first major league to suspend its season, on March 11, 2020, after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert became the first NBA player to test positive for the coronavirus. Later, the NHL suspended its season, and then the MLB delayed the season’s Opening Day. The NCAA also cancelled March Madness, a basketball tournament for the top 68 men’s and women’s college teams, which was heartbreaking for many fans. Maeve Stauff ‘21 explained, “When I found out March Madness was cancelled, I was so sad. The games are so exciting… Every year I look forward to making the [March Madness] brackets and betting on the winner with my family.”

From that point on, these professional leagues started to lose a substantial amount of money because they are no longer able to sell tickets, food and beverages. These professional leagues were also unable to earn revenue from advertisements, which meant they lost a lot of money. According to CNBC, from March to May of 2019, the NBA, MLB and NHL generated almost one billion dollars in advertisement revenue alone. This means that during that same period this year, at least one billion dollars could be lost from ad revenue alone during the pandemic. According to ESPN, a projected 5.5 billion dollars of revenue will be lost in American professional leagues, including the MLB, the NBA, the NHL, the MLS, among others. This projection, however, assumes that the NBA and NHL will be unable to finish their seasons. This estimate also does not take into account the amount of money that will be lost from a lack of college sports, which are projected to lose almost four million dollars. 

NBA players across the league agreed to have their salaries cut by 25% starting May 15 while games are still on hold due to the coronavirus. Players had been receiving their full paychecks up until April 15, but, according to Variety Magazine, the Force Majeure clause allows the NBA to withhold one percent of a player’s salary for each game not played due to crises like the coronavirus pandemic. Similarly, in Europe, many soccer clubs and players are agreeing to take salary cuts. According to GOAL, FC Barcelona’s players pledged to take a 70% pay cut. Real Madrid defender Sergio Ramos and many others donated money to help with the coronavirus outbreak. Juventus FC players also agreed to reduce their salaries, which will save the club the equivalent of 101 million USD. Also, many German teams, such as Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, and RB Leipzig, are sharing their money with other teams in the league to prevent job losses.  

The stadium workers, including security, maintenance, and the concession-stand workers inside the stadiums, are some of the most affected people in the sports business. Since there are no more sports being played in these venues, millions of stadium workers worldwide are currently without jobs. However, many athletes and organizations are pledging to cover the salaries of many of the staff at their arenas. For example, Cleveland Cavaliers forward Kevin Love was the first to help out stadium workers. He pledged to give $100,000 dollars to the staff at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse, where he currently plays. Houston Astros outfielder George Springer likewise donated $100,000 to the employees at Minute Maid Park. New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson also pledged to cover the salaries of the staff at the Smoothie King Center for thirty days. Many other players and organizations, including the Dallas Mavericks, The Los Angeles Kings, and the Atlanta Braves, have volunteered to help their staffers as well.  

Although live sports have been put on pause, past sports games can still be found on TV, which is one of the main reasons why ESPN viewership ratings are up since the coronavirus pandemic shut down many leagues, according to Deadline Hollywood Magazine. Another reason viewership ratings are up is because this past April, ESPN debuted the ten-part docuseries "The Last Dance" about how Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan and his team won their sixth NBA championship in the 1997-98 season. The docuseries delves deep into the lives of Jordan and his teammates, and reveals fascinating truths that have been kept in a vault for over twenty years. After watching the docuseries, Sam Cherry ‘23 said, “I think it was really cool that [the producers] managed to film so much of MJ’s [career] and were able to turn it into a documentary. I loved it.” 

On the first night "The Last Dance" aired, which showcased the first two episodes, ESPN and ESPN2 averaged 6.3 million viewers for the first episode, and 5.8 million for the second. The docuseries was originally supposed to start airing in June, but ESPN decided to move the first two episodes to April 19 because they knew fans were itching for some high-quality sports. Jordan himself was set to receive anywhere from three to four million dollars as part of his share for "The Last Dance" earnings. According to Forbes Magazine, he ultimately used this money to donate to charitable causes, but Jordan has not decided to share the names of the charities to which he donated.

While most professional league games are still suspended, some leagues are slowly starting to come back. In Europe, the Bundesliga, a German soccer league, resumed their season on May 16. Chris Ruano ‘22 said that he is glad “the Bundesliga is back.” English Premier League teams have also started holding practices at their training grounds, and the league is set to start again on the first day of June. On that same day, NBA commissioner Adam Silver is supposed to announce a plan to finish out the regular season, and begin the playoffs. Sports are slowly coming back, and within a few months, sports fans will be able to regularly watch their favorite teams again.
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