Professional Sports Played in Empty Arenas

Empty sports arena during the pandemic
Artwork by Anthony Faust
Empty sports arena during the pandemic

The National Basketball Association (NBA) was the first league affected by the pandemic. The 2019-2020 season was suspended on March 11, and restarted more than 100 days later, on July 7, in the bubble in Orlando, with a limited few (mainly media and team executives) in attendance. As you watched the games on TV, these few spectators sat just out of frame on the near side of the court. You could tell some people were sitting there, but you couldn’t quite see who, or how many. The cameras never shot that reverse angle. The gym had the feeling of a dark Division II college arena, with a super fancy video board and snazzy graphics alongside the court.

The good part was you felt like you were kind of in a practice session. The microphones could pick up more on-court chatter, and it felt intimate. The play was pretty good throughout the playoffs. As the rounds continued, rules relaxed, and some family members were able to join the bubble. 

The Finals were not great. LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers beat his old team, the Miami Heat, 4-2. It felt anti-climactic, like the real accomplishment was completing the season successfully with few issues along the way, and that all the players were ready to go home.

The National Hockey League (NHL) also held their playoffs in a bubble, restarting on July 26 in two different locations: Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta. The league made the decision to host the games in Canada, as their coronavirus rates were much lower. They tried to recreate the arena experience, with simulated crowd noises provided by video game maker Electronic Arts and pre-recorded team specific chants, but those efforts didn’t quite mask the feeling of an empty crowd.

Playoff hockey is normally a crazy environment, and home crowd can really swing a playoff series. But not when there are zero spectators. The television production was very good, as they were able to shoot angles that are normally impossible with a crowd in the stands. The players could also be heard, with a 5-second TV delay.

The NHL wasn’t very transparent with their players and a lot of the players spoke negatively of the league and their time in the bubble.  After the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Dallas Stars in six games, both teams seemed ready for the bubble to be over.

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About the Author

My life as a husband and father transformed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sent home from work in March 2020, I've yet to return to the office. Adapting to the new pandemic world proved challenging for us all.

However, we managed to find silver linings. Drive-by birthdays brought joy to my kids' friends. I'll never forget stumbling upon a heartfelt hand-painted rock during my jog, reminding us that we're all in this together. Regular Zoom happy hours with close friends created cherished memories.

While quality time with my family was a blessing, we also faced hurdles. Assisting my youngest daughter with frustrating math homework on a poorly designed iPad app tested our patience. Both girls struggled with wearing masks during sports and school.

Sadly, witnessing COVID-19 being politicized and witnessing the closure of small businesses while the wealthy thrived was disheartening.

I wrote this book to document our experiences, learning from them and striving for better decisions in the future. Join me on this rewarding journey of resilience and growth.

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