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Even with empty stadiums, television a big driver in the push to bring back pro sports amid coronavirus

The COVID-19 pandemic has been described as unprecedented, and in many ways that is accurate. As it relates to sports, though, it’s worth remembering two things: external factors have stopped sports before and those sports did return, sometimes stronger than before.

“Fans have had something that is a big part of their lives taken away,” said David Berri, an economics professor at Southern Utah University. When sports resume, “I think you’re going to see a rather huge uptick in interest and revenue.”

The NBA season was suspended on March 11, the same day NHL season came to a halt. The MLB season, scheduled for a late March opening, hasn’t begun. The NFL season could be played without fans in the stands.

Leagues would take a financial hit if games were staged in empty stadiums: money from tickets, concessions, parking, and in-venue sponsorships would be lost. Smith College economics professor Andrew Zimbalist noted that the average MLB team would lose about half its normal revenue in such a scenario.

There is big money, however, especially for the NFL, in the television deals. They generate billions for the leagues.

Those contracts “provide a substantial incentive for pro and college leagues and conferences to attempt to start as quickly as possible,” said Lee Berke, a sports media industry consultant for the past two decades.

“That’s why you’re seeing (the leagues) examining a range of scenarios for how they restart in a healthy environment.”

NBA teams have recently started re-opening their training facilities. Major League Baseball is working on a proposal to play a shortened season, with player safety and compensation reportedly key issues in the negotiations.

Whether games are limited

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