COVID-19 brought sports to a screeching halt worldwide as it forced commissioners and presidents to postpone all their plans due to health and safety concerns. Many leagues have now resumed their play, but they look a bit different amid the global pandemic.
As sports kick back into gear in the COVID-19 era, each league is finding unique approaches to combating disease as well as engaging distanced fans.
The NBA ran consistently from the end of July until recently when teams chose to strike in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. The Milwaukee Bucks kickstarted the strike Aug. 26, after a police officer shot Jacob Blake, a Black man, in Kenosha, Wisconsin — roughly 45 minutes from downtown Milwaukee. The strike lasted two days until the NBA met with teams and reached agreements about their support for social justice.
The NBA is currently taking place in Disney World, where players are isolated in a bubble to help prevent COVID-19. 22 out of 30 teams were invited to attend to play seeding games for the playoff rounds and play officially began on July 22.
With no fans in the stands, the league has created software to bring fans virtually to the games, showing their live reactions in the stands from wherever they are in the world.
The league is currently finishing up its first round of playoffs, and the finals are scheduled to start Sept. 30.
In the world of women’s basketball, the WNBA elected to shorten its season from 34 to 22 games with playoffs still scheduled as usual for the end of September. The teams are all in a similar situation to the NBA, with players in a bubble setting in Bradenton, Florida at IMG Academy.
The WNBA also went on strike in support of the Black Lives Matter movement Aug. 26-27. Play resumed on Aug. 28 after player’s union president Nneka Ogwumike said the league used the time for “reflection” and to recommit to social justice.
The league has been continuously supportive of Black Lives Matter, with the Washington Mystics wearing t-shirts spelling out Blake’s name with 7 bullet holes on Aug. 26 and the league dedicating its entire season to Breonna Taylor.
After a July training camp and a week of regular games in early August, the NHL is back with a revamped playoff schedule involving 24 teams instead of the usual 16. The original postseason was set to take place in April but instead began Aug. 8.
NHL teams began a strike in support of Black Lives Matter Aug. 27, facing backlash for playing through Aug. 26 — the first day of striking for the NBA and WNBA. Games returned Aug. 29 with some isolated postponements since then.
If the schedule stays as is, the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs are expected to last until October.
Baseball resurrected for the United States July 23 after one week of spring training games and has been back in business ever since, being the only league to send teams traveling across the country. Isolated Black Lives Matter strikes began with the Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds Aug. 26, with seven more games postponed Aug. 27. Games have since returned as scheduled.
The league is currently running on a 60-game schedule for the season, as opposed to its usual 162. However, scheduling issues arose at the end of July after COVID outbreaks sprung up on various teams. The MLB regular season was not held in a bubble, but talks are now in the works to possibly move the playoffs to bubbles in Texas or California.
Although there are no people to pack the parks due to COVID-19 restrictions, fans can tune in to watch teams get creative with cardboard cutouts or even computer edit fans into the stands. Teams are also selling opportunities to get your own cardboard cutout in the stands.
The World Series is currently scheduled to begin Sept. 27.
UEFA Champions League
If you’re looking for something to watch outside the U.S., look no further than the UCL — a tournament that pulls the top European soccer teams together for a nail-biting competition of the best. It begins with a group stage involving 32 teams, then heads into knockout rounds after the league draws each opponent.
The last season ran in a condensed version from June 25 to Aug. 23, with FC Bayern Munich securing its 6th ever title. The qualifying rounds kicked off Aug. 8 for the 2020-21 season, and the first round of the official competition is set to begin on Oct. 20.