News Analysis By Trevi Ray and Hunter Doyle

Omaha, Nebraska and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania are 18 hours and twenty-seven minutes apart by car. More than land separates these two cities. Philadelphia, a city with an east coast mentality and a famously brusque population is far from the midwestern city with just over half the population of Philadelphia. Yet there are similarities. Both Philadelphia and Omaha are full of avid sports fans. The Nebraskans root for the Huskers or the neighboring Hawkeyes and Pennsylvanians cheer on the Eagles.

Every fan felt the loss of their pastime during the nationwide shutdown. ESPN didn’t have anything to put on the air. Athletes weren’t even at practice to speculate at their abilities in the coming season. The loss was more acute than perhaps many expected. After all, sports had been a near-constant for years.

With no live sports, fans turned to old highlight videos for months. It’s safe to say that some did not expect them to return in 2020. It all happened so quickly. In March, American fans were sitting in the stands watching NBA and NHL games. There was excitement building up around the start of the MLB season.

I (Hunter) was one of those fans. There I sat on March 11 watching my Philadelphia 76ers beat up on the Detroit Pistons in South Philadelphia. I had no idea that might be the last time for a while. Upon exiting the stadium, I learned that the NBA had shut down the season along with every major sport. Little did fans know they would be excited to watch the KBO (Korean Baseball Organization) at 1 am every day with no sign of American sports returning. The rest is history.

Economic Impact

Perhaps one of the major effects the coronavirus had on sports was the economic impact. According to Sports Value, the sports industry earns around $756 billion every year. Amir Somoggi from Sports Value states that damages have been caused “to an entire production chain that is impacted by the high degree of induction to different economic sectors.” He says that “professional sport undoubtedly impacts the production chain the most.” 

With limitations and restrictions in place for sporting events, organizations are losing money. There is no longer any ticket revenue. Some stadiums have tried to open with limited capacity. However, some teams have had to revert back to no fans due to spikes in cases. 

No fans in the stadium also means no revenue from concessions and team stores. There are online stores for teams. However, a lot of fans buy merchandise on game days. Stadiums also often host tours of the stadium but that is not an option anymore. The loss of this revenue clearly threatens the future of sports as a whole. They have to have enough money to hold these events and pay their employees. Will fans ever be able to gather with one another in the same way again? That’s a question we might not know the answer to for quite some time.

Not only has fan attendance been limited but many events have been cancelled completely. The Olympics community might be one that suffers the most. The Olympics committe postponed the Summer Olympics for the first time in history (via United Nations). Fans from all around the world travel to watch the Olympics.

Some college athletic programs shutdown for the Fall and Winter seasons. The MLB shortened their season to just 60 games. The NBA also had to cancel some games and try the bubble format. Forty percent of the NBA’s revenue comes from ticket sales and in-game spending (via Marketplace). Despite that, they went forward with the bubble which cost more than $150 million according to Marketplace. The NFL has gone forward with their season despite many injuries and COVID cases. Why would these leagues continue with their seasons despite the restrictions and economic struggles?

There are many answers to that question but one of them has to be the community aspect of sports. Fans needed sports to return. They can still gather in their homes and watch the games now. There is also hope that the in-person experience at sporting events can return in the future at some point. They do not want that community aspect to die off. Whether fans are in-person or at home, they are the reason sports have become such a key part of so many communities.

That extends beyond just professional sports. Sports communities are present in youth, high school, and club sports as well. According to Forbes, youth sports is a $15 billion dollar industry. Parents value the opportunity for their kids to learn good work ethic, teamwork, facing failure, and other life lessons through youth sports though. Despite the potential economic losses, people realize the importance of continuing with restrictions. The value of these communities are difficult to replace.

Psychological Impact

Sports can be dismissed as just a game, an entertainment. However, this attitude ignores much more fundamental aspects of sports. People rarely follow other forms of entertainment with such enthusiasm or loyalty. Someone may watch every film a director puts out, but they wouldn’t buy a signed shirt of theirs and frame it in their house. Sports themselves as well as teams have expansive cult followings and loyalties that are harmed by the impact of COVID-19.

Sports are important from an early age. Many parents put their children in little leagues and sports camps before they even attend school full time. This is an apt decision by parents. The psychological impact of team sports on youth is incredibly positive. A variety of psychologists conducted a study to assess the impact of youth sports on mental and physical health.

They concluded, “Sport was associated with positive psychological and social outcomes, including higher positive affect and well-being and greater social skills. Shy and aggressive children who participated in sport reported higher self-esteem.”

Not only is the economic side of youth sports at a standstill right now but so are the benefits. Youth sports are either canceled or continuing with altered seasons and social distancing measures that promote isolation over teamwork. As many children continue school online as well as playground sports are also off the table. This combination leads to a year or perhaps more where children reap lesser or even no benefits from sports.

When children who once played youth sports grow up some go on to continue in their sport. These athletes also see benefits that they now have limited access to. Specifically the athletes participating in team sports report lower level of anxiety and depression than their peers. This is attributed to the communal attributes of team sports.

A study on the mental health impact of team sports said, “Sports can provide relief for symptoms of mental health issues, allowing adolescents to alleviate and manage their problems (Toseeb et al., 2014). This mechanism of amelioration may be most effective through team sports because of their added social component (Boone and Leadbeater, 2006; Sabiston et al., 2016).

The sense of community and the relationships that youth build on teams with peers and adults promote feelings of comfort and acceptance and may reduce emotional problems and insecurities (Boone and Leadbeater, 2006; Eime et al., 2013; Sabiston et al., 2016). Although the benefits of individual sports are evident, they may be grounded in the general effects of physical activity rather than the culture of teamwork in which group athletes train and compete.”

Athletes benefit from being on a team. This is once again significantly harmed by the measures to prevent COVID-19. Some seasons are cancelled others have implemented social distance, but just as with youth sports this damages the relationship building aspect of teams.

Long-term impact of pandemic shutdown

Up close the issue and the difficulties all walks of life are facing it is a risky business to evaluate the reach this ordeal has had. The weeks, months, and years to come will allow the world to better see the broader impact of COVID-19. After all, hindsight is 20/20.