2020 is an unforgettable year for sports lovers. The seasons have weathered a lot of disturbances only to be brought back in unfamiliar formats with few, if any, fans in the stands.
It was also a year to see how well, or on the contrary, sports leagues have dealt with the pandemic. Some leagues contained the virus better than others thanks to careful planning. Bubble Campus protected NBA players with cutting edge technology and enabled the NHL to end the postseason without Covid.
The same cannot be said of other major leagues facing widespread outbreaks that have resulted in delays, bans and other issues.
When the LA Dodgers won the World Series that year, people around the world watched in horror. Third baseman Justin Turner, knocked out mid-game due to a positive COVID-19 test, returned to the field and celebrated with his team after his win. Both actions showed major flaws in the security logs, but the league went a step further and decided not to punish him. The MLB had gone 54 days with no new cases of coronavirus. Now the Dodgers alone have five positive cases.
While the cases were not as well known to the NFL, they are far more common. Half of the league’s 32 teams have at least one confirmed case and several have had to shut down their facilities entirely to slow the spread. Players, employees, and even managers are infected with the virus – nobody was immune.
Even more distant sports like golf have fallen victim to Covid-19. Two players recently had to be banned from the master after discovering the virus. There are also a number of cancellations and delays in university sports. These athletes face an uncertain future as cases increase and new restrictions apply.
Why don’t security measures work?
According to interviews and reports, gamers have strongly opposed the expanded use of Bubble Campus. MLB and the NFL ultimately opted for lighter measures than those that had proven successful for the NBA and NHL.
The MLB only implemented bubbles for their postseason World Series games. Although various security precautions are in place, it does not mention any specific technology or contact tracing method. It is unclear where Justin Turner signed Covid-19, and although the MLB has allowed a limited number of fans in stadiums, there is still no evidence that this is related to the spread.
When NPR spoke to Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, he stated that the plan was to follow strict procedures in team and league facilities and to trust players to stay home and follow recommended precautions. “We ultimately decided on a virtual football bubble,” he said, “which means that the teams are in their own home markets.” And yes, players, coaches and staff can stay in their own four walls. “
Like the NBA, the NFL contracts with Kinexon to use SafeZone tiles for contact tracking. These are used in NFL facilities and during team travel, but are returned for download and sanitization at the end of the day. The tags collect information about who and for how long the wearer comes in contact so that potentially exposed people can be isolated and tested for Covid-19. However, the tags do not help track contacts outside of facilities, which is a huge risk as the NFL does not use bubble campuses.
We can now see the result: inadequate measures that do not contain an outbreak. Teams are starting to take matters into their own hands, as contact tracing can only play catch-up. The Dallas Cowboys create a bubble for employees who come into contact with players. Management also tries to restrict the movement of players within the boundaries of collective agreements.
The take away
Despite the money and influence of professional sports leagues, keeping Covid-19 under control is a challenge. The MLB still had a high profile case after its bubble formation, and the NFL’s constant Covid exposure shows that technology won’t work without bubble-like controls. The tough year for sports fans is not over yet. Disruptions and changes will continue to be hallmarks of the 2020 season and possibly beyond.