Will sports fans come back post-pandemic?
Teams may have to work harder to get people in the seats
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It's been a year
On March 11, 2020, an NBA game in Oklahoma City was called off moments before tipoff because Utah centre Rudy Gobert had tested positive for COVID-19. Before the night was out, the NBA announced it was shutting down indefinitely. The NHL, Major League Baseball, the PGA Tour and pretty much any other major sports league you can think of followed suit the next day. A couple of weeks later, the Tokyo Olympics were postponed.
March 11, 2020 was also the day Tom Hanks said he'd tested positive, and the day the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. The disease had been a vague concern for North Americans for a while (it was first mentioned in this newsletter on Jan. 28, when several Olympic qualifying events were moved out of China) but March 11 was the day when COVID-19 became real for most of us.
A year later, well, we've been through a lot. 118 million people have been infected worldwide and more than 2.6 million have died. Canada has seen nearly 900,000 cases and more than 22,000 deaths. And counting. The pandemic is still very much a thing, and we're not out of the woods yet. Restrictions on our social lives, travel, even ordinary interactions — rules that have become chillingly normal over the last 12 months — will probably remain in place for a while yet.
But things are looking up. The speed at which multiple vaccines were created, tested and delivered to those who need it most is almost miraculous. It's the Man On The Moon of our time. Restrictions are (slowly) lifting in Canada and other parts of the world, and sports fans are even returning to indoor arenas in limited numbers in some areas of the United States. The Olympics look like they'll open as (re)scheduled on July 23. Spring is around the corner. Warmer weather is arriving. A normal-ish summer seems more and more likely.
For the first time in a while, it feels OK to look to the future. So how might the experience of living through a global pandemic affect us as sports fans? One thing I keep coming back to is the idea that the pandemic didn't create as many dramatic changes to society as it simply accelerated pre-existing trends. For example, Zoom calls, online grocery shopping and working from home weren't invented on March 11, 2020, but that's the day they started going truly mainstream.
Could the sports-fan version of this be not going to games anymore? It was already getting harder to justify as the price of tickets and concessions kept rising and the cost of high-quality TVs kept falling. Plus, we have exponentially more home-entertainment options these days. Streaming services have exploded, video games keep getting better… for God's sake, there's a miniature super-computer literally in your pocket right now that is extremely good at helping you waste time. All these forces were aligned against live sports before the pandemic hit. Now they're an even bigger part of our lives after a year in which we had no sports at all for a time.
As arenas and stadiums start to fill up again, some people are itching for a shared, live experience. But many others will remain anxious about being in crowds for the foreseeable future. They'll need some coaxing back. Pro sports can't just take its ticket-buying audience for granted anymore. Maybe that'll be a good thing for all fans in the long run.
For more on how the pandemic brought the sports world to its knees, watch this dramatic video by CBC Sports' Steve Tzemis showing how everything built up to that frightening day one year ago:
Kevin Koe has company atop the Brier. Last night, the four-time champ's team suffered its first loss of the tournament, to John Epping's Ontario rink. Today, the wild-card team skipped by Wayne Middaugh (filling in for the injured Glenn Howard) matched Koe's for the best overall record at 6-1 by beating Northern Ontario. With one game left in the opening round-robin stage, Middaugh's team leads Pool A and Koe's tops Pool B. Both will advance to the championship pool, which starts tomorrow. Read about today's Brier results here and watch That Curling Show with Devin Heroux and Colleen Jones live at 7:30 p.m. ET on YouTube or the CBC Olympics Twitter and Facebook pages. Tonight's guests are Koe and his super second, John Morris.
The International Olympic Committee made a vaccine deal with China. Under the partnership between the IOC and the Chinese Olympic Committee, vaccines will be provided to people taking part in the upcoming Summer Games in Tokyo and next year's Winter Games in Beijing. The move is seen as a reputation booster for China after some have called for Beijing to be stripped of the 2022 Olympics because of the country's alleged human-rights abuses. Read more about the agreement here.
Duke will miss March Madness for the first time since 1995. With an uncharacteristically mediocre 11-11 record heading into their conference tournament, the Blue Devils' chances of getting into the NCAA men's bracket didn't look great. They probably had to rattle off five straight wins and take the ACC title in order to make it. But after winning its first two games, Duke announced today it was pulling the plug on its season following a positive coronavirus test within the program. The last time Duke failed to qualify was the year iconic coach Mike Krzyzewski left the team after 12 games because of a bad back.
Things to watch on CBC Sports
I was in net for… Kerry Fraser's missed call and Wayne Gretzky's OT winner: The latest episode of Rob Pizzo's excellent video series on famous hockey moments from the netminder's perspective is about one of the most controversial non-calls in NHL history. After Fraser missed (or let go?) Gretzky's high stick on Toronto star Doug Gilmour in overtime of Game 6 of the 1993 Western Conference final in L.A., the Great One potted the OT winner to force Game 7. Gretzky then delivered a hat trick back in Toronto to deny the Leafs their first trip to the Stanley Cup final since 1967. Toronto's goalie that year was Felix Potvin, who shares his memories of the one that got away. Watch the video here.
Olympic sports: The live streaming menu for Friday and the weekend includes the Olympic men's handball qualifying tournament, the snowboard and freestyle ski world championships, and an Athletes Unlimited volleyball event. See the full schedule here.
Road to the Olympic Games: Saturday's show features competition from the snowboard and freestyle ski world championships. Watch it from noon-6 p.m. ET on the CBC TV network, CBCSports.ca and the CBC Sports app. Sunday's show features freestyle skiing World Cup events. Watch it from noon-3 p.m. ET online or check local listings for TV times.
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