If sports return before coronavirus vaccine, 3 in 4 say they won’t go
SOUTH ORANGE — Beginning with the NBA abruptly suspending its season while games were still in progress March 11, the sports landscape across North America has become suddenly barren, with all in-progress major leagues putting their seasons on hold and serious doubts as to whether the NFL can begin as normal this fall.
A recent Seton Hall Sports Poll took Americans' temperatures not only about the novel coronavirus and how its concerns stacked up against their love of sports, but also about their willingness to attend games should athletic seasons resume.
Poll director Rick Gentile said that overwhelmingly, respondents still have the virus and not their favorite teams front of mind, with 72% saying they would not go back to a live sporting event until a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available.
That question even took into account the inevitable social distancing measures that will be put in place in many places where large gatherings had formerly occurred.
"The headline is that what we found was that people are extremely respectful of this disease," he said, adding that the general attitude seemed to be, "Let's chill with this thing, let's not push the envelope, and when the all-clear is given we're back, but until then we're very wary."
The poll also asked if the respondents were avid sports followers. More than half (54%) said they follow sports "very closely" or "closely," but Gentile said that did not drastically impact their willingness to see a game in person.
"Real sports fans, it was still 61% said that they would not consider it safe to attend a game, and that was a really eye-opening response," he said.
Gentile said that a longtime fear of sports executives is that if there are no fans in the stands, television viewers will turn away, because they won't see the value in watching a game no one wanted to attend.
But he rightly noted that these are extenuating circumstances, and the poll reflected that 76% said they would have the same level of interest in watching a spectator-less game on TV as they would normally.
Respondents were split on whether sports should even resume at all in 2020, with 40% saying not at all, 21% saying yes but with no fans, and 23% saying yes with limited attendance.
Finally, 76% said the sports leagues acted at the right time to pause their seasons, with only 16% saying the action was not fast enough, and 84% said the International Olympic Committee acted appropriately in postponing the upcoming Tokyo Summer Games until next year.
"They get that it was the right thing to do at the right time, and they also get that it's not smart to go back to an arena full of people," Gentile said.
The telephone survey of 762 Americans was conducted from April 6 through 8.
Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's afternoon news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.