What Will Sports Do When Some Regions Open Before Others?

Rob Manfred and Adam Silver
Rob Manfred and Adam Silver / Michael Loccisano/Getty Images

For the millionth time, what happens in sports is less significant in the grand scheme of things than getting the coronavirus health crisis under control. Nevertheless, it remains a matter of great intrigue as to when NBA, NHL, and MLB will return, and a big variable that these leagues are going to have to deal with is that it sure seems like some states will open back up for business before others do. Will the leagues wait until all their teams' territories are clear, or will they set up shop where they're permitted?

Some of this will come down to preparedness -- Washington state was an early adopter of social distancing and thus projects to come out the other side sooner -- while another aspect of it will be a good old-fashioned red/blue divide. Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (not the sports Dan Patrick) asserted that our elders would gladly sacrifice their potential health so their grandchildren could enjoy a raring economy. Mississippi governor Tate Reeves has deemed some businesses, like department stores, "essential" where that classification does not align with what many states have determined.

President Donald Trump is talking about getting things humming again by Easter, but this isn't really something that's up to him. It wasn't the federal government that has been ordering shelter-in-place -- it's been states and cities. Call it an educated guess that red states are going to be more aggressive in opening back up than blue states, at least on the margins.

It's a reasonable question as to whether sidelined sports leagues, which stand to forgo billions of dollars over missed games, will be beholden to their last regions to resume business, or if they're going to spring for early opportunities. Once you decide that a basketball or baseball game can be held without an audience, what does it really matter where it is? If, for instance, Seattle is open weeks before anyone else, could leagues bang out games one after another in a building there?

At the outset when sports return, it's presumable that players, coaches, training staff, referees, and television crews will all have to be tested before every game. These people might also have to essentially be in quarantine to ensure that the games aren't compromised. But, if they can find venues and regions that will support a return to action sooner than others, one wonders if this will be an opportunity that they pounce on.