In a move that defies common sense as the country sets all-time highs for daily COVID-19 infections, the Oklahoma City Thunder will allow fans in their indoor arena for the NBA season … which starts next month.
In a statement released yesterday, the organization says it will allow a “limited” number of fans in the stands, but does not specify exactly how much.
Last week, Shams Charania reported that the NBA wants to host 25-percent to 50-percent fan capacity at the start of the 2020 season. The move is contingent on local regulations. Today, Charania tweeted that the league sent protocols to teams looking to host fans inside as the virus rages across the country.
Just last month, NBA commissioner Adam Silver spoke to ESPN about the success of the bubble and what lies ahead for the league. “As Dr. Fauci says, the virus will decide,” Silver said. “If there truly is a second wave, things like that could push us back.”
But the virus is surging across the county and tip off scheduled for Dec. 22. The “progressive” NBA would like fans in the stands to help their bottom line, which lost millions from canceled games this spring and summer when the league was forced to shut the season down. The NBA is also a few weeks removed from record-low TV ratings during this year’s Finals.
“We’re also very mindful that while it’s fantastic what’s happened in this bubble, we love our fans and want to bring them back into the arena and we want to do it safely” Silver continued.
Silver must love NBA fans because he knows that roughly 40 percent of the league’s revenue comes from selling tickets. Small-market teams, like the Thunder, depend on gate receipts and revenue sharing from big market teams. So OKC’s desire to allow fans makes sense for that organization in the short term. But if other big market teams can’t host fans, shared revenue will be severely limited.
Despite the financial allure of hosting fans, any plan that potentially puts thousands indoors during a surging pandemic is a risk to public safety. If you don’t believe this sports writer, ask health experts like David Swedler, an epidemiologist and statistician who works at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation. He told USA Today that he “think[s] it is ludicrous to allow fans to attend those in-arena home games.”
A recent study also found that crowded indoor venues accounted for 80 percent of COVID infections from March to May. Even with “limited” capacity, why would the NBA want to take a chance on infecting its customers? That would put a stain on the league, not to mention its business.
“The pro teams in the Big 4 leagues will financially survive the pandemic,” Swedler continues. “They might not make as much money if they don’t have fans present. But they have huge TV contracts. That’s going to pay the majority of the bills. I really think it’s unconscionable to give the fans an opportunity to get sick in a super-spreader event by gathering them at one place, especially the NBA with having indoor only games.”
Domed NFL teams like the Lions had to wait months before introducing a few hundred fans in their 65,000 seat stadium. And in New Orleans, the Superdome has started to introduce spectators. This week, they could have 6,000 fans. That’s still less than 10 percent of its seating capacity. Other outdoor NFL stadiums are holding around 25 percent of their capacity.
And for reference, 6,000 fans would fill nearly a third of Chesapeake Energy Arena in downtown Oklahoma City.
Duke University also made a call regarding college basketball fans yesterday. There won’t be any at the start of the season.
“The decision to maintain our non-spectator protocol is imperative for the overall health and safety of the Blue Devil fan base, student-athletes, coaches and support staff, notwithstanding the immediate campus population comprised of students, faculty and staff,” said Duke’s Athletic Director and adjunct professor of business administration, Kevin White.
There are a few things reasonable people everywhere can agree upon to help control the spread of COVID: wear a mask, avoid large gatherings, and spend time outdoors if you’re out of the house.
Going to an NBA game checks one box. But don’t worry, mask-wearing at Chesapeake Energy Arena will be “strictly monitored” by someone, somewhere to keep you at ease. How relaxing!
So if drinking a $14 Bud Light in a semi-empty arena while taking your mask on and off between sips and potentially exposing yourself to a deadly disease sounds fun, “limited” tickets will be on sale soon. We’ll see how many they offer in the coming weeks.
But maybe this is the year to consider shelling out for NBA League Pass instead.