Some politicians, media figures and business leaders are clamoring for sectors of the economy to re-open in the near future, and President Trump, on April 14, specifically mentioned America’s professional sports leagues.
“We have to get our sports back,” Trump said. “I’m tired of watching baseball games that are 14 years old.”
But a recent poll of 762 Americans across the country conducted by my colleagues and me at Seton Hall’s Sharkey Institute shows that Americans may be less enthusiastic than the president about the prospect of “Play Ball!” – at least, until there are some effective COVID-19 treatments in place.
Asked if they would feel safe attending a game before the development of a vaccine, 72% of Americans said they would not, while 12% said they would only go to games if people adhered to social distancing. Just 13% indicated that they would feel safe.
While the NBA, NHL and MLB have been suspended indefinitely, the poll also asked respondents about the upcoming NFL season, which is set to begin in September.
Only 36% thought the NFL season should open on time, while 46% said it shouldn’t. If some form of social distancing were to continue into the fall, 70% said the NFL should postpone its season to ensure player safety, and only 6% said the league should begin as planned. If the NFL gives players an option not to play, 20% were okay with the league going ahead.
This doesn’t mean fans don’t yearn for the days when they could watch their favorite teams and players: 53% said they missed watching live sports. Of those, only 39% said that they were finding good use of their time without watching sports, while 57% said they were bored without them. Another 4% indicated they were angry about the shutdown.
There have been some rumblings about leagues holding games in empty or half-filled stadiums and arenas. Fans seem amenable to this idea, with 76% of respondents saying they would watch broadcasts with no fans present with the same interest as before.
Yet respondents were willing to hew to the advice of doctors, with 61% saying the NFL’s decision to open should be made by medical experts, with only 19% saying that the league should make the call.
Some have argued that even if elected officials were to publicly announce the “reopening” of the country, Americans would still be hesitant to gather in public as long if there’s still a moderate risk of contracting the coronavirus.
This seems to be the case with live events, and while most people agree with the president that they miss sports, they seem – for now – to be prioritizing public health.
This article by Murray Edelman first appeared in The Conversation on April 4, 2020.