The Colossal Cost of Coronavirus: Sports

The coronavirus Pandemic has completely changed how many of us go about daily life. One of the most visible disruptions into people’s daily lives was the complete cancellation of sports leagues. Due to the pandemic being worldwide, nearly every sport on the planet that was in season was put on hold from March to almost June. 

The pausing was not just limited to professional leagues- amateur leagues, little leagues, and school programs were all limited or outright cancelled. While it certainly contributed to the world’s collective boredom during quarantine, what has been the actual cost of these sports shutdowns?

In this week’s Cost of Coronavirus feature, we will cover the losses suffered by the major sports leagues across the United States and more. Be sure to check out last week’s article on the total costs of COVID-19 to small businesses! 

Coronavirus Basketball Cancellations 

Basketball leagues across the country were some of the first to react to the rapidly spreading virus in mid-March. The college and professional basketball season lined up directly with the beginning of the outbreak. There are many different basketball leagues, from high school to the professional. However, the NBA and NCAA were the two organizations that took massive losses right at the beginning of the pandemic.

First the Jazz Stopped, then the Entire League

Up until early March, the coronavirus was a distant epidemic in China. Health officials watched the situation unfold, however normal activities in the US largely went on as planned. This started to change as confirmed cases started to pop up in the United States. 

America’s perception of the virus went through a paradigm shift when Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVD-19 on March 11. Immediately after the league suspended operations and games “for at least 30 days”. However, it ended up being over 4 months until the NBA would resume play.

Rudy Gobert touches mics days before being testing positive for coronavirus
Rudy Gobert touches mics days before being testing positive for COVID-19

The suspension of games cost the NBA a fortune. According to fivethirtyeight.com, the league lost an estimated $1 billion between losing ticket revenue, merch revenue, and TV contracts. 

On July 30, the NBA finally resumed play in the much-publicized “bubble”. Essentially, every team in playoff contention isolated themselves in the sports complex of Disney World in Orlando, FL. While effective at containing the coronavirus, the bubble cost over $150 million. It has been successful, however, and the NBA is scheduled to begin the Finals on September 30. 

Disney's ESPN Sports Complex where the NBA bubble is currently hosted.
Disney’s ESPN Sports Complex where the NBA bubble is currently hosted.

No More March Madness

The college basketball season was nearing its famous tournament when the pandemic began. March Madness 2020 was scheduled to start on March 17, 2020. The Final Four was scheduled for a few weeks after on April 4 in Atlanta. 

However, despite promises from NCAA officials that the show will go on behind closed doors, the tournament was completely cancelled on March 12. They also cancelled all remaining men’s and women’s sports competitions. 

The revenue lost by cancelling March Madness was enormous. Traditionally, March Madness generated about $850 million annually. With its cancellation, all of this possible revenue was wiped out. Additionally, schools depend heavily on distributions from the NCAA since many sports programs are not profitable. 

On a non-quantifiable level, it is also extremely disappointing to those athletes that were not able to compete this year. Some teams were set up to perform well, and (especially the seniors) have lost the chance to become NCAA champions. 

Baseball

Baseball leagues around the world often start their seasons in the spring, which put baseball in a similar situation as basketball. The opening day for the American leagues of all levels was at the end of March, just as the pandemic was beginning to rage across the United States. 

Major League Costs

An eerie, almost apocalyptic view at the A's and Giants game during coronavirus.
An almost apocalyptic view at the A’s and Giants game. Wildfires in California turned the sky orange, while the seats were adorned with cardboard cut-out “fans”.

The MLB went through multiple different options before discussing cancelling the season. Spring training was ongoing, and many teams suggested they use their spring training facilities in Arizona to play games during the pandemic. However, ultimately the March 26 opening day date was pushed back indefinitely. This was after the NBA, NHL, and MLS all postponed games.

The next few months were filled with uncertainty. Unlike the NBA, the MLB did not invest in a “bubble” system for the season. The team instead followed local COVID-19 guidelines when deciding when to play again and if to allow fans. However, there now was a legal battle between the league and its players.

Without getting too much into the legal-ese, the Players Association and the League couldn’t agree on how long the season should be, how much players should be paid, and if players would be able to sit out of the season if they were not comfortable. 

The players and league eventually agreed, and the show went on. However, it was not without hiccups. There were outbreaks among some teams, causing further postponing. As of September 15, about 43 games have been postponed. 

With October baseball looming, the MLB is expected to complete its season with an expanded playoff and World Series. However, it is not without risk. The post season is some of the hottest spots for advertising, and the league could lose hundreds of millions should they need to postpone any games.

Players Lose 

The league was not the only loser in the struggle to restart baseball. According to a new study, MLB players have lost a total of $79 million due to coronavirus. Mike Moustakas of the Reds has forfeited $258k for just a four day absence. Other players have seen similar drops in salary.

This is just an estimated loss, however. Some players’ names are undisclosed. This means that the cost could be actually much higher collectively. However, we do know that tens of millions of dollars was left on the table for players due to opting out.

Umpires were not spared from salary loss as well. Eleven umpires opted out of the season, which caused them to lose collectively over $2 million.

Formula 1 and Coronavirus

The 2020 British Grand Prix at Silverstone. Silverstone was paid by Liberty Media to host the event due to coronavirus.
The 2020 British Grand Prix at Silverstone. Silverstone was paid by Liberty Media to host the event; usually it is the other way around.

While the first two sports we covered were mainly United States sports, Formula 1 is a worldwide racing series. The pandemic was active in nearly every country, so a world-spanning sport like Formula 1 was going to be affected. Formula 1, however, took the most last minute actions in postponing their season.

The first Grand Prix of the season in Australia was set to go on on the weekend of March 15, 2020. However, after multiple teams’ crew members tested positive for COVID-19, many teams dropped out. Finally, before the first practice session took place, the FIA cancelled the event.

Months went by and Grand Prix after Grand Prix was either cancelled or postponed. It wasn’t until July that the season resumed in Austria with coronavirus precautions and no fan attendance.

What was the cost of these cancelled Grand Prixs? It is hard to estimate as the season is still ongoing, however the 2019 Formula 1 season saw about $620 million in revenue. As of August, the 2020 season has earned only $24 million. The loss of $600 million is astronomical, and mainly driven by sponsors dropping out, no fan attendance, and Liberty Media (the owners of F1) having to pay circuits to host races instead of the other way around.

The season continues to go on, however. On the bright side, desperate times called for desperate measures, and some races in new locations are being held in order to complete the season.

The Show Will Go On

Overall, COVID-19 caused the spring and summer of 2020 to be one with almost no sports on. There has not been such a disruption to the sporting world since World War 2. We only covered three major sports, but every league in the world was affected. Soccer across Europe was cancelled or postponed, and the NFL has taken precautions to ensure a safe and uninterrupted season continues.

That being said, though sports continue to go on, nothing will recover the billions of dollars lost due to coronavirus cancellations.

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