The sports world was brought to a standstill when Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz tested positive for COVID-19. Each individual league was then tasked with an unprecedented ordeal: finding a way to bring back sports during a pandemic. We spent all of the spring months without any of the major sports leagues. The March Madness tournament was canceled, baseball season was postponed, the NBA and WNBA didn’t know if they would finish their seasons and the NHL couldn’t schedule its playoffs.
The NBA and WNBA bubbles
Once we entered the month of May, there were rumblings of sports making their returns. Basketball was vocal and ready to set the example for the other sports leagues. They were quick to establish a season, set guidelines and ensure health and safety for their players. The NBA set up a bubble in Orlando, Florida and the WNBA set theirs up in Bradenton, Florida. They tested their players often to ensure that there were no positive cases when entering the bubble. Anyone with a positive test was put into a quarantine zone until they had multiple negative tests.
The NBA and WNBA needed to finish their seasons and decide playoffs, so they chose to do a play-in tournament and have seeding games to decide the end of their season. The games were quite competitive and showed that these athletes weren’t going to mail it in under the circumstances. The last major hurdle for basketball was involving the fans. They set an example by allowing fans to wait online in a room to be selected randomly to appear in the virtual crowd. Fans video-chatting from home are broadcasted on giant screens surrounding the stadium, and the TV coverage pumps in crowd noise to give viewers at home a realistic experience.
Baseball arguments over salary
Baseball didn’t handle things as elegantly as basketball did. The owners and the players were immediately locked in an argument over how they should be paid. The owners proved to be quite greedy throughout the process and didn’t want to pay the players for more than 60 games. Baseball players get paid per game, so they were pulling for a longer season. In hindsight, a longer season would have done a lot of favors for baseball, which many people see as a dying sport. A longer season would have made them the only show in town and would have given them the opportunity to recruit more fans. Instead, they must now fight for airtime with the NBA playoffs and the NHL playoffs, two faster-paced games. But they did have the added fun element of fans buying cardboard cut-outs of themselves to put into the seats at stadiums. The proceeds from the cutouts then went to support COVID relief.
NHL had the best situation
The NHL had the easiest time because they did not have to worry about contract negotiations. All players are paid their full salaries before playoffs happen, and that was the only part of the season that was cut short for the league. Hockey chose the no-fans route, but still pumped in crowd noise to improve the fan experience. These games have been crazy to watch, with a lot of underdogs pulling upsets and even a five-overtime game.