Dec 2, 2020 - Sports

The end of COVID’s grip on sports may be in sight

Illustration of a giant pair of legs standing in a tiny stadium.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Packed stadiums and a more normal fan experience could return by late 2021, NIAID director Anthony Fauci said yesterday.

Why it matters: If Fauci's prediction comes true, it could save countless programs from going extinct next year.

By the numbers: Tottenham reported losses of $86 million in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2020, compared to a profit of $92 million in the previous 12 months, per The Athletic (subscription). Looking ahead, they expect that to get much worse.

  • "Our estimate for the current financial year of the potential loss of revenue, should the stadium remain closed to fans, is in excess of [$201] million," said chairman Daniel Levy.
  • MLB, to take a stateside example, claims its teams collectively lost $3.1 billion due to its shortened, fanless season.

The big picture: Fauci's imagined future won't become reality just because he said it out loud, but fortunately there are mechanisms on the horizon that should actually give us a lot of hope.

  • President-elect Joe Biden has said time and again that once he takes office, he'll work with state and local leaders to implement a nationwide mask mandate, which should significantly slow the spread during the vaccine's rollout.
  • Vaccine distribution is likely to begin later this month, and it appears there's a good chance even the lowest-risk individuals will be able to get their shots by the summer.
"100% of Americans that want the vaccine will have had the vaccine by [June]. We'll have over 300 million doses available to the American public well before then."
— Lt. Gen. Paul Ostrowski, a top official of Operation Warp Speed, told MSNBC

Between the lines: Stadiums won't magically fill up overnight, but the incremental increases in attendance through the spring and summer should help teams weather the storm until this is truly behind us.

  • Plus, while even limited attendance looks foolish now given the rapidly spiking numbers, it should be far less risky once the combined effect of masks and vaccines begins taking root.

Yes, but: Even the best laid plans often go awry, and vaccine distribution at this scale could present its own logistical hurdles that prevent the aforementioned timeline from being met.

The bottom line: Going to a game used to fall somewhere between a treat and just another way to spend disposable income. Perhaps one year from now, stadiums full of people will realize just how good they once had it.

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