So, NFL, About that COVID plan...

So NFL, About that COVID Plan

You know what?  Let’s talk about sports.  That’s a nice safe topic right?  Can we all just be chill and talk about the NFL for a few minutes without anything bad happening?  Can we just have that, universe?

We spent the summer watching the various ways different pro-sports leagues tried to push forward despite “the circumstances.”  The MLB had an interesting strategy at the outset: test players constantly, maintain social distancing, keep the stands empty and pipe in crowd noise to the telecasts.  That worked really well until a bunch of players got COVID like 5 minutes after the national anthem wrapped up. 

The NBA by contrast created their Disney COVID bubble where players would live, hang out and play in a closed system. While this method was quite restrictive, it did actually work. Like it really worked. The NBA just wrapped up their their 2020 season with the Lakers winning their 17th NBA Championship title and (even more impressively) ZERO COVID cases.

“We had zero positive tests for as long as we were here,” MVP Lebron James said. “That’s a success for everybody that was involved.”

Enter the NFL.  This is likely the most challenging sport to pull off during a pandemic since gameplay requires 22 players to be packed into tight spaces where they just breathe on each other and occasionally move the ball 4 yards in either direction. 

After putting on an excellent virtual draft back in the Spring, we expected the NFL to be absolutely on top of their game for their kick-off on September 10th.  So how did the opening games pan out?  What precautions has the league taken to ensure the safety of their players and confidence in their schedule?

Well, the biggest issues with the season plan were theoretically hammered out at the tail end of July.  If any of you sports fans recall, the NFL and NFL Player’s Association came to a lengthy agreement that included extensive testing, strict training regiments, new salary caps, roster changes, and everything else imaginable and unimaginable. 

The NFL/NFLPA agreement is seriously exhaustive.  There’s pages of requirements detailing things like how air should be circulated in indoor stadiums.  There’s new rules about who teams can send out to witness the coin toss. There’s rules about masks. There’s even rules about how loud the piped-in crowd noise is allowed to be across the league so as not to provide an advantage to one franchise over another. Seriously.

And while the NFL teams would not be playing in a bubble like their NBA counterparts, the amount of logistical work that went into new rules for play suggests the NFL was at least as serious about protecting the health of their players as they were in protecting their finances.  And really, that’s just about the best we can all hope for this year.

Kansas City Chiefs running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire (25) carries the ball against the Houston Texans in the first half of an NFL football game Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Another point of departure that the NFL took from other professional sports leagues was in the allowance of some stadiums to seat actual fans.  Each franchise has been allowed to apply their own rules to live attendance based on local pandemic conditions, and the complete list of who is selling tickets can be found here.  While some franchises like the Denver Broncos will only allow family and friends of the players to view games, the Kansas City Chiefs actually allowed 16,000 fans to spread out across their 70,000 seat stadium.  This arrangement can be seen well here, as fans boo the Chiefs and Giants standing in silent unity to call attention to police brutality (btw, have you registered to vote?).  The New England Patriots and several other franchises haven’t ruled out the possibility of hosting fans until later in the season but did commit to keeping their stadiums empty at least through September.

Now aside from that unpleasantness in Kansas City, the remainder of opening weekend seemed to have gone off rather smoothly, albeit with a slight drop in viewership from past years. So clearly, the NFL seems to have figured this out and the rest of the season should go smoothly and as scheduled.  There’s no story here.

Oh no, wait.  Hang on.  

Yeah, nevermind.  Actually there’s COVID everywhere.  

As rough as the NFL’s opening weekend was, that seems to have thus far been the high point of the 2020-21 season.  But don’t just take it from me, I’m only capable of informative snark.  Here’s ESPN’s Dan Graziano with a breathless, dramatic rundown of the state of things at Week 5:

“Already the most exhausting season in history, the 2020 NFL campaign now peeks its head around the corner into Week 5 amid cacophonous calamity. Every morning brings fresh news of positive COVID-19 tests, schedule delays, amended protocols, questions that spawn more questions. Two games were postponed last week, and two more already have been postponed this week. The Tennessee Titans are under investigation and have been banned from their own facility for 10 days so far. The New England Patriots‘ two best players have tested positive for the coronavirus, and they haven’t practiced yet this week after playing on Monday night. Both teams’ Week 5 opponents wait for final word on whether and when they might play. No one knows where the next COVID-19-related issue will start, only that it will, and bring with it even more questions and complications.”

This week has seen some major changes to the regular season schedule to accommodate teams battling COVID.  In the short term, the NFL just issued several changes to their management plan in response to the virus moving through the Patriots as quickly and easily as an opposing team breaks through their offensive line.  Anyone exposed to COVID and anyone that person has come in contact with are now required to isolate for a minimum of 5 days, even if it means missing a game.

The NFL is now actually reconsidering the NBA’s bubble strategy for the post-season and are potentially looking at Dallas and Los Angeles as their bubble sites before the Super Bowl takes place in Tampa Bay as scheduled.

So there you go.  It was a nice try, NFL.  Here’s hoping things get back on track and everyone stays safe and virus-free for the remainder of the season.

What Does This Have to Do with Your Next Event Plan?

Are you planning to pull together your professional sports franchise for the 2021 season?  For real, one of these is bound to be perfectly fine.  Isn’t that how the law of averages works?  We’re looking at you XFL – third time’s a charm. 

In all seriousness, here at Decibel Event Management we look at each of these leagues, individual franchises and major events for key takeaways on what to do, but also more importantly what NOT to do going forward.

When it comes to these major sports’ seasons, it appears that only the bubble has worked so far. Does that mean that you need to do a bubble to successfully host your next conference or corporate meeting? Not necessarily. It’s important to evaluate your ultimate goals with each event, and we’re great at doing just that. Reach out to us today to see how we can help you plan and put on your next company event both safely AND successfully.