COVID-19 Sports Update: Limiting Tickets, Soccer Here and Abroad, Testing Problems, Gambling, More

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COVID-19 Sports Update: Limiting Tickets, Soccer Here and Abroad, Testing Problems, Gambling, More

Chicago Cubs

Sorry to start things off with some alarmism, but a very concerning thing happened this weekend. A number of states (and the freaking CDC) admitted that they had been including antibody tests in their total testing results, which is a serious problem because it not only doesn’t tell you what you want to know when it comes to “testing” data (new and current infections), but it also can completely muddy the positive test rate, which is one of the most important tracking items when it comes to re-opening areas of the country.

In other words, if you include all your antibody testing (which much lower positivity rates) in your overall data, you’re artificially pushing down the positive test rate for no scientifically justifiable reason. The two types of tests NEED to be broken out separately. Finally, states have started doing it, and it will impact total testing volumes as the data are adjusted.

To the extent this kind of monkeying with the data was intentional – specifically, to make the positive test rate look lower than it actually is – it’s hard to overstate what a callous decision that was. You then had medical health professionals and epidemiologists in certain states making decisions about “reopening” based on flawed data. Look no further than Texas, where the Rt rate for the virus (in the latest update at, which is tracking the rates of spread in each state) just rocketed up from solidly under 1.0 to 1.09.

(I know that it was a data revision, by the way, because I’ve been following for weeks now, and I thought it was interesting that Texas had been under 1.00 the entire time. Then suddenly, yesterday as they finally separated out the antibody testing, the data now shows it was solidly over 1.0 going all the way back to late April … just before they ended their shelter-in-place order. I’m at a loss, and I’m very concerned about the spread in Texas at this point (and in other states that suddenly update their data to say gee golly, sorry, we didn’t know we weren’t supposed to be mixing tests). I’m not saying the adjustments are entirely related to the antibody testing issue, but it was clearly adding to a false sense of security in some areas.)

Soccer in Spain, United States

Meanwhile, in countries that were hit much harder initially, but locked down much more comprehensively … the top soccer league in Spain is the next to come back, with La Liga getting the green light to come back as soon as June 8, with June 12 the likely target date for a resumption of their season.

Over here, the MLS is still negotiating the financial side of the resumption of their season, reportedly tying 10% player pay cuts across the board to longer-term CBA negotiations (must be nice to be able to pull that kind of thing off … ). If they can figure out the finances, the plan to return to play could involve a jump to a postseason tournament in July.

NFL Tickets

The Pittsburgh Steelers are already anticipating fans being able to attend games this fall, but are ALSO already anticipating limited capacity:

Half seems pretty aggressive, to be honest. The Dolphins are the only other team to make public their thinking in this area, and it was more like one-fifth capacity.

Ancillary Business Considerations

A couple stray notes on business impacts of the sports shutdown, and changes for the future.

StubHub, the top ticket reseller, has obviously been crushed by the lack of games (and concerts and other events), but according to sources – also known as me and lots of friends – they’ve finally conceded that games have been cancelled. But instead of refunding tickets, they are crediting peoples’ StubHub accounts with 120% of the value of the tickets previously purchased, and that credit must be used by the end of 2021. It’s a dubious approach to satisfying your customers – especially requiring them to spend by the end of 2021 (think about what the landscape for event attendance might still be next year) – but it means, clearly, StubHub flat out doesn’t have the cash to refund tickets. My guess is that their options were this or bankruptcy. And bankruptcy is probably not off the table yet.

As an industry, sports gambling is easily going to survive this pandemic, but the landscape might shift dramatically because of it. How and why? Because, as PFT rightly surmises (in my view), you’re going to see a lot of states aiming to pick up new streams of tax revenue in the wake of massive losses this year (yup, states are themselves hurting this year, too). That’ll mean a much, much greater openness to allowing sports gambling in your state, and with leagues no doubt pushing for it, too, the will is going to be there.

To be sure, this was always coming to the sports world. But my guess is instead of states slowly coming forward over the next decade, it’ll probably be more like a gold rush over the next three years. (Illinois, by the way, had already opened up for sports gambling … just about a week before everything shut down.)

Author: Brett Taylor

Brett Taylor is the Editor and Lead Cubs Writer at Bleacher Nation, and you can find him on Twitter at @BleacherNation and @Brett_A_Taylor.