Welcome to this week's edition of Extra Innings. The NFL and college football are both struggling to find their groove, as many teams’ players are unable to avoid testing positive for Coronavirus. So far, only one NFL game has been postponed, however, 25 college football games have been postponed and that number is expected to rise again. On the other hand, MLB playoffs have operated without issue and have produced some of the most highly watched games so far this year.
Despite the pandemic, college football fans have been returning to games at a surprising clip, with some attracting above-capacity crowds. Big-12 and SEC fans have been leading the way, with both leagues averaging over 12,000 fans per game, for an average of 95% and 88% capacity, respectively. Even with each conference committing to play, there is no consensus on the number of fans who will be allowed to attend at one time. The Big Ten, Pac-12, and Mountain West conferences have yet to play and won't permit fans to attend when their games begin.
As the fall progresses, there may be a change in the number of fans at games, and conferences may reverse course regarding increasing or decreasing capacity at any time. The Sportico graph above highlights colleges that have hosted games with fans versus the number of positive Coronavirus cases in each college's county, per 100,000 people. The data shows no definitive safety recommendation regarding fan capacity per game. The University of Tennessee and the University of Memphis each have a similar number of students testing positive for the virus per 100,000 people, are located near each other, have roughly the same number of students on campus, yet Tennessee has about six times the number of fans attending each one of their games.
The Padres have been innovative in monetizing their product and engaging fans. Earlier this summer, they created a drive-in theater for fans and members of the community to view games and feel like they were a part of the actual game. The Padres took this experience to the next level when they created a tailgating experience for their Divisional Series games against their rivals, the Dodgers. This ticket came with food and drinks, as well as two parking spaces: one for a car and the other to organize the tailgate party itself.
The Padres aren't the only team hosting some sort of viewing party for their fans. The Miami Marlins invited guests into their stadium to view their Divisional Series against their rivals, the Braves. The Marlins set up tables on the infield and had projected the game live on the centerfield scoreboard. This created a festive environment that brought fans closer to the action and their team.
Many aspects of sports have a copy-cat nature, as successes on or off the field are analyzed and improved. As the pandemic continues and teams look for new and innovative ways to connect with their fans, events like these will be used as a starting point and expanded upon by teams in the MLB and NFL.
Notable Information From the Sports World:
MLB: The Supreme Court has denied a petition from the MLB in a wage dispute against minor league baseball players. This is the first step for minor leaguers who believe they have not been compensated fairly in the past. Most minor leaguers make less than minimum wage because they are only paid during the season and compensated for the five months that they work. If the court sides with the plaintiffs, the MLB could be on the hook for millions of dollars as the league will have to pay current and former minor leaguers for their work. The MLB's decision to reduce its overall minor league system partially stems from this years-long dispute.
Digital Bobbleheads: Bobbleheads are a staple of going to baseball games and something that fans missed this season. The Tampa Bay Rays and New York Mets collaborated with a company called DiGG to create a digital bobblehead to engage with their fanbases. Attached to the digital bobbleheads are giveaways such as gift cards to the team store or team-branded gear. Also attached to these bobbleheads are exclusive club content and a way for the club to drive more awareness to team partners.
Viewership Trends: There may too many sports on at the same time this summer and fall and that could explain why viewership is almost universally down. The NBA Finals Game 1 was down 45%, an all-time low for an NBA Final, while the NHL Stanley Cup Final saw viewership fall by 61%, for example. It does seem that overall viewership is up, but with so many big games or events on at the same time, the audiences are divided.
NFL: The NFL continues to grapple with its Coronavirus outbreak and the Commissioner is now threatening financial or competitive discipline if new guidelines are not followed. Unlike the MLB, the NFL and its schedule are much more delicately constructed, making it much more difficult to make up games that are missed. It does seem draconian to threaten teams with forfeiture if players test positive for the virus, but at a certain point, there needs to be some incentive for players to stay healthy so that the games can be played and the league can earn revenue.
NHL: It is too early to forecast what the next season will look like for the NHL, but one deciding factor for the league will be the status of the US / Canada border. The NHL has six teams based in Canada (the NBA and MLB only have one each) making it much more difficult to plan a schedule. The MLB managed to move the Toronto Blue Jays to Buffalo for the year, but the NHL may not have that luxury as it will need to find six new homes for its teams if there is no reopening of the border. The NHL received an exemption from the Canadian government before its bubble started this summer, but may not be as lucky moving forward.
NASCAR, Formula 1, and Formula E events may not seem like the place to look for leagues decreasing their carbon footprint, as racing is all about burning fuel and that is a primary trait of the sport. Since its inception in 2014, Formula E has pledged to become carbon neutral, reducing any avoidable carbon emissions. In Formula 1, there is a similar movement afoot with racing teams either conforming to that league’s carbon-neutral goals or exiting from racing. Honda, for example, will opt out of Formula 1 because it no longer feels that it can realistically comply with its own carbon goals of becoming carbon neutral by 2050, and still compete in the league. Honda will now reallocate its assets from Formula 1 to furthering its initiatives in lowering its carbon footprint.