Sports Fans Are on Edge About Being in Their Seats

Does this look like something you'd want to be a part of without a vaccine?
Does this look like something you'd want to be a part of without a vaccine? / Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Seton Hall's business school polled 762 Americans to take their temperature on willingness to attend sporting events when they return. The results are not surprising as uncertainty rules the day and caution is a valued commodity.

"Asked what they would do if the leagues resumed play before the development of a vaccine, 72 percent of Americans said they would not attend games, with 12 percent saying they would if social distancing could be maintained. Only 13 percent said they would feel safe attending as in the past. Among sports fans the number drops to a still significant 61 percent."

First, let's address the small sample size and concede that we can leave our trusty Jump to Conclusion Mats in storage. We're a long way off -- even under the most optimistic projections -- for the resumption of sports and even longer from fans pouring though the turnstiles. And even longer out from a vaccine, sadly. So the decision to come out to the ballgame will look a lot different in the new world.

There's reason for leagues and fans of normalcy to ignore this information right now. But there's also reason to be very concerned.

We know that what people say they'll do and what they actually do is not always congruent. There will be those who expressed no interest in attending packing the family into the station wagon and taking to the bleachers. What's more likely though is the other side of the coin where those all gung-ho about soldiering on get cold feet when it comes time to buy those tickets.

Putting on a brave or perhaps irresponsible face is different in theory than it is in practice. Everyone wants to shift toward the rays of optimism peeking through the dark window, but there needs to be a healthy appreciation of future reality.

That reality suggests COVID-19 is not going away. Though numbers may drop, people will continue to be infected. It's possible it comes back even stronger in a second, third, or fourth wave. Both the lack of testing and lack of experience dealing with its rhythms leave us mostly groping in the dark for answers.

It's easy to predict enthusiasm for in-person consumption being stronger in less affected parts of the country. The appetite to rub elbows with the masses will be higher in places that have experienced less pain. In addition, there will be cultural forces driving behavior -- just like every year.

All of this, of course, is looking into the future with a cloudy crystal ball. Beyond this study there's another door with unknown behind it. We should be braced for the inevitable negative consequences of re-opening stadiums. Surely there will be significant transmission even with the most stringent distancing best practices are employed. It's tough to wrap one's mind around it, but multiple people will die after contracting the disease at sporting events.

There's just no way around that. When it happens, it will be tough for reasonable people to conclude that attending a Pirates-Phillies game is an acceptable risk.

The thing is, we will eventually have an answer on the public's desire to be the cheering masses from the stands. It will no longer be an unknown. Data points won't be trotted out to back a political leaning. We won't have to bicker what the most important indicators are and what will and won't matter.