Sports Return - COVID News - Bundesliga, UFC, Churchhill Downs
Much like the flower that grows from the crack in the sidewalk, sports have finally returned in our darkest hour to offer us sports-nerds a glimmer of hope.
And what a relief it was. Live sports finally returned to American TV’s this week, and I was there to soak it all up. Now, I’m here to report back my thoughts on post-COVID sports. The good, the bad, the empty, I’m going to talk about it all.
But before getting into my personal thought’s, let’s take a quick look at what sports actually returned, in what capacity, and what sports will be starting again very soon.
I’m speaking, of course, from the perspective of a USA based sports fanatic. I am aware for some of you, you’ve had live sports on this whole time, for others, you are still without sports, and this I am sorry for. But for us American sports fans, here’s what’s sports have returned.
I’ll start with the most talked about. The first of the Top 5 leagues to get matches going again are the Germans, who treated us with a full weekend worth of fixtures.
Standout matches included Dortmund’s 4-0 thrashing of Ruhr Valley rivals Schalke, a 2-all draw between Koln and Mainz, and a solid win by Bayern Munich to continue their reign over the league.
Fortuna Duesseldorf 0 : 0 Paderborn
Eintracht Frankfurt 1 : 3 Borussia M.Gladbach
Borussia Dortmund 4 : 0 Schalke
FC Koln 2 : 2 Mainz
Union Berlin 0 : 2 Bayern Munich
UFC 249 PPV & 2 - UFC Fight Nights
Dana White and his cohort were finally able to get fights on TV. Hosting the events in a small venue in Jacksonville Florida, fans were finally treated to some blood-drenched knockout fights.
It all began on May 9th when UFC officially returned with PayPerView UFC 249. It seemed questionable that the fight was even going to happen all the way up until it did, with one of the fighters testing positive for COVID the day before the event.
Tony Ferguson finally got to fight, maybe not against his ideal opponent, but all the buildup drama wouldn’t matter in the end when Ferguson got put down by Justin Gaethje.
After the big PPV return, fans got back-to-back free UFC Fight Nights this week as well. The first came on May 13th with Anthony Smith falling to Glover Teixeira towards the end of Round 5. Then three days later, on the 16th, Alistair Overeem knocked out Walt Harris in a headlining Heavyweight bout.
Justin Gaethje KO/TKO Tony Ferguson in R5
Glover Teixeira KO/TKO Anthony Smith in R5
Alistair Overeem KO/TKO Walt Harris in R2
Churchill Downs – Twin Spires Horse Racing
We finally got some racing fun when the first horse race to return post-COVID was held in Kentucky on Sunday, May 17th. Horse Racing seems like a no-brainier when it comes to getting sports back on TV safety. With minimal exposure to participants, and the lack of fans playing little, to no, role in the sport, the races went off with without a hitch. No one nor horses were injured over the weekend.
Betters and racing fans alike must have been excited to finally get some action because there was a massive increase in money bet on the races. Track Official said that betting was up 185% from last year. In 2019 this race brought in roughly $5 million in bets, but over the weekend, that same race during COVID brought in over $14 million in bets.
This shows that despite the social and economic hardships we are all facing right now, betters still have money burning a hole in their pockets. Or at least a stimulus check or two to try their luck with.
Both Kentucky and California are set to hold more races in the upcoming weeks with Belmont (New York) slated to reopen sometime in June. The horses don’t care if there are fans in the crowd or not and neither do I. Just give me a bankroll, my phone, and a TV screen, and I’m happy.
Sports that May Return Soon
- NFL is still set to start their season like normally. Opening game is Sept. 13th.
- MLB restart still in question. League says 4 things must happen first: no laws restricting public gatherings, no laws restricting traveling, league must be able to process 10,000 tests a week, there is no risk to players and staff safety.
- NBA teams have returned to limited practice. 11 of the 30 NBA teams have began some form of practice this week.
- Premier League is aiming for a restart on June 19th if everything goes as plan.
My Reaction to Fan-less Sports
Before I start being critical of everything that transpired this week, let me first state that I am extremely thankful to have live sports back on TV. I know many workers and athletes have been going overtime to get things back up and running safely. There’s a lot of stress and anxiety trying to get sports back on TV right now, and I am so appreciative for anything we can get.
However, with that said, I think there could be some massive improvements made to create a more enjoyable and authentic viewing experience. When it comes to dealing with no fans during sports events, we can’t look for a one-size-fits-all solution. Different sports require different considerations.
For instance, horse racing depends so little on fan interaction; thus, little, to nothing, needs to be done for horse racing. In fact, any horse racing fan will tell you that outside of major races, often times there are very few people in the stands for everyday routine races.
But for a major events like a PayPerView UFC fight, especially when you are charging additional money, there needs to be some thought put into the viewing experience. The only way I can describe watching a PPV UFC fight without fans is awkward.
The uncomfortable silence, hearing every little noise of someone clearing their throat or scratching the butt, really makes it feel strange watching it in your living room. During the actual fight itself, the silent stadium is rather interesting as you can hear every hit, every kick, every grunt, but between fights, it’s not good.
For UFC Fights I would suggest playing some non-invasive music or some mild crowd sounds between fights to help reduce how awkward it feels. It was so quite that from our living room coach you could overhear people’s private conversations, the scuffing of people’s feet, and so much more. It’s really is too much. They desperately need some background environmental sounds to help round out the audio.
Now let’s talk about the sport that is hurt the worse by not having fans: soccer. Fandom plays such a vital role in soccer I’m not sure if it’s even the same sport without fans. Fan culture is the lifeblood of the sport, and right now we are totally without it.
Watching a full round of Bundesliga without fans was surreal and not-nearly as enjoyable. All top flight leagues need to be looking at what can be done to improve the experience for viewers at home, especially if this is going to be the situation for a while.
My suggestion to the Bundesliga, EPL, La Liga, Serie A, etc would be to consider what options there are to address this situation. The goal is not to try and recreate an artificial crowd or anything of that nature. Instead, the goal should be to improve the viewing experience. How?
For starters, stop showing panning shots of the empty stadiums. We're familiar that during matches they always like to show pan shots of the crowds, but when there is no crowd, stop using those same shots. It makes no sense.
Another suggestion would be to not play matches in enormous stadiums. Why is Dortmund playing in their 80,000 seat Signal Iduna Park when there is no one there? Never mind it not being very cost effective, but it also exacerbates the problem. They should be looking to play in smaller venues or indoor pitches. This will help it seem more intimate.
Finally, I would suggest replacing shots of empty seats with close-ups of players, coaches, etc. Also, I'd play music or crowd noises before and after the match, and I would think of ways to have limited fan interactions. Maybe show fan tweets on TV, answers fan questions, etc, but there needs to be something done to have a sliver of fan interaction.
In short: play matches in small stadiums, no shots of empty seats, play audio before and after matches, and use social media to create fan interactions.
What Were Your Thoughts?
There it is. My thoughts and reactions to post-COVID sports. If this whole pandemic wasn’t surreal enough as it is, watching these bizarre desolate versions of sports I love really made me take a step back and ask: what are we doing here?
What about you? What sports have you been able to watch and what was your reaction to watching it with no fans?
As much as it saddens me to say, I think it’s going to be quite a while before we see a stadium full of fans going mental after a stoppage time winning goal.