This year has thrown everyone some curveballs, sports included. Everyone in this industry has been impacted, from athletes, who’ve had to find creative ways to train and even competed in esports, to Athletic Trainers (ATs), who are fighting at the forefront of COVID-19 and helping to make it safe for athletes to return to school. It’s not only athletes and ATs who’ve had to pivot during these uncertain times - conferences such as the Pac-12 have found innovative testing methods for COVID-19 to allow their athletes to safely compete.
With the return of sports, it’s essential that athletes and fans alike are protected from COVID-19.
How Athletes Are Playing It Safe
Keeping athletes safe (on and off the field) has been challenging, though not impossible. Some associations, like the National Basketball Association (NBA) and the National Hockey League (NHL) took the approach of isolating their players in a bubble. With this approach, it’s relatively easy to conduct contact tracing.
The NBA isolation bubble ended up being a huge success and set the tone for operating a safe and healthy environment while mitigating the spread of COVID-19 (there were no positive tests). They were successful thanks to daily testing, social distancing (where possible) and mask-wearing. The same can also be said about the NHL bubble, one located in Toronto (which housed 600 players and staff) and the other located in Edmonton. Both bubbles had no positive COVID-19 results. The drawback to these bubbles is the isolation and boredom the players felt being apart from their families and loved ones. Players had to keep themselves from going stir-crazy by finding unique ways to entertain themselves (e.g. golf simulations and hallway ping pong).
Another way athletes have been kept safe is with innovative testing methods. As previously mentioned, the Pac-12 recently partnered with the diagnostic healthcare manufacturer, Quidel, which produces rapid COVID-19 tests with results in 15 minutes. The partnership also involves research - the data collected from the tests supports the safety of athletes and is being studied to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic in general.
ATs have also been using the guidelines provided by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), counties, health officials and coach associations to keep athletes safe. Under these guidelines, ATs have enforced physical distancing, hand sanitization, mask-wearing, and tracking who has had COVID-19 and who may have been exposed to it.
Given that ATs and other sports medicine professionals are focusing more of their time on screening athletes for COVID-19 symptoms, they’re also turning to technology that can help streamline this process. One way they can fast track the screening process is by using an Athlete Electronic Health Record (EHR) that provides a COVID-19 Screening Template, like Presagia Sports. Not only does our secure, cloud-based Athlete EHR help ATs with athlete’s performance and recovery, they can now monitor an athlete’s exposure and symptoms according to NCAA best-practices.
While keeping players safe with bubbles, innovative testing methods or strict guidelines (e.g. mask-wearing, hand sanitization and physical distancing) has helped, athletes competing in a game just don’t find it the same without their fans. As stated by Adam Silver, commissioner of the NBA, “As successful as the bubble was in Orlando, we miss our fans, as do our players.”
How Sports Fans Are Remaining Engaged
At the beginning of the pandemic, sports were on hold, with athletes training from home and sporting venues closed. While in-person sports viewing has remained a hurdle, the sports industry has found new, creative ways to keep fans engaged. One such way is by getting fans to be part of the action by providing the means to view games while in the comfort of their home. NASCAR has kept their fans involved by streaming their competitions. They also used technology to create a virtual sports betting game.
While there’s no substitute for the energy a crowd brings to a game, another way the industry is keeping fans engaged is by fostering an authentic connection with fans, which includes sports betting and virtual tailgate parties.
The Milwaukee Bucks wanted fans to be able to enjoy their games live, so they inquired about creating a safe way for fans to enjoy the game while outdoors. Proposed plans included being socially distant, utilizing parking garages, shipping containers and even creating a drive-in movie-like experience. Due to the investment involved in making these kinds of changes, this type of viewing experience would be for the long haul.
To navigate the ever-changing landscape of COVID-19 and to get fans back in sporting venues, industry leaders are also relying on cross-league collaboration. This involves leading experts in the industry coming together to discuss what has worked, what hasn’t worked and steps to resume in-person viewing.
We understand that the curveballs thrown at the sports industry this year have been tough. We’re hopeful that the safety of athletes and fans remains top priority and that soon, fans will be back enjoying live games.