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The Grizzlies, fans, and COVID-19

The NBA & the Grizzlies are preparing for fans next season. Is it the right move?

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Earlier this week the NBA and NBPA agreed to terms on a 72-game schedule for the 2020-2021 regular season beginning on December 22nd. Shortly after the vote was approved, the NBA sent a memo to all 30 teams with protocols for eligible markets to host fans, per The Athletic’s Shams Charania.

The reaction on social media was mixed with various types of takes. Some were excited to be able to get back into arenas and cheer on their teams, while others were naturally concerned about the NBA allowing fans back in the arenas as COVID-19 cases continue to spike around the country. It was certainly a controversial decision by the NBA to proceed with setting guidelines for fans to attend games, but in their eyes it was a decision that was necessary. The NBA is in a nearly impossible situation going into next season, but in my opinion, they are doing great so far.

The NBA is a business, and like a majority of businesses they rely on money to keep the business alive. The NBA bubble in Orlando to wrap up last season was able to recoup $1.5 billion in revenue that would have been lost without restarting the season, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski. Having a conclusion to the 2019-2020 season was great for the NBA, but recouping that $1.5 billion was also key for the NBA going forward. The Orlando bubble was also incredibly successful when it comes to protecting the players from COVID. This next season will obviously be different, but the NBA deserves the benefit of the doubt.

The NBA and NBPA have been discussing for weeks the best start date for the NBA with the NBA pushing for the Dec. 22nd start date while the NBPA pushed for an opening date on MLK Day in January. Wojnarowski reported that the one month delay could cost somewhere between $500 million and $1 billion in losses for next season and beyond. Naturally, with that much money at stake the two sides settled for an opening date of December 22nd. It’s important to note that both the players, organizations and the NBA would all be a part of these massive losses, not just the owners.

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Reports from Shams Charania of Stadium, Woj and other prominent NBA reporters have stated that the NBA is going to make changes to their schedule next season to help make things easier. The plan is to have a “baseball style” series with teams next year to limit travel. For instance, the Grizzlies will likely knock out most, if not all, of their games out in California in one extended road trip. Limiting travel will make it easier on the players, especially those who went deep into the playoffs. It should also make contact tracing a little bit easier to figure out and handle when a team ultimately has a player test positive.

When it comes to fans in the arenas, the NBA is ultimately leaving it up to each team to decide how they want to proceed. For example, Shams has already reported the Lakers will not have fans for their home games until further notice. Although Shams didn’t specifically state every protocol and guideline, the assumption is that the NBA has generic guidelines in place for a team to have fans. Should they adhere to those guidelines, it’s up to the teams to decide how they want to proceed. Per Shams, at maximum teams would be permitted to allow 50% capacity if all fans were tested or if the local county’s positivity rate is 3% or below and seven-day average of new cases per 100K residents is 10 or fewer.

All fans will be required to wear masks, socially distance and undergo symptom surveys which have become the norm in 2020. Teams will also have the option to install plexiglass behind their benches to protect the players from potentially catching COVID-19 from fans sitting near the bench. All fans within 30 feet of the court will also not be allowed to food and beverage, likely to ensure that masks are worn at all times.

In preparation of the 2020-2021 season, the Grizzlies sent out an email last week stating that they have been working closely with local health officials to establish new protocols for FedExForum with “the expectation of starting the season with fans in the stands”. The Grizzlies also included a survey in the email gauging the comfort level of the fan base in regards to attending games next season.

There is still a lot for the NBA to figure out over the next month prior to the season beginning. Will there be expanded rosters to help make up for potential COVID cases? Will the NBA have a COVID-19/reserve list like the NFL? What happens to two-way players with no G-League season in the works?

This next season is going to be unlike any other. It will be a calculated risk, there’s no denying that. Allowing fans in the arenas only increases the odds of an outbreak. Still, it’s a risk that the NBA, it’s teams, and it’s players have to take. If it would have cost $500 million to $1 billion just to wait a month to start the season, what would it have cost if the NBA waited until after the Olympics to begin next season?

The NBA is arguably the most progressive major sports organization in the United States. They’ve continuously looked out for their players, while also doing their best to stay profitable. To be frank, if the NFL and MLB (granted they are outdoors sports) can pull off their regular seasons (albeit with some missteps), then I trust the NBA to be able to do so as well.

There will be thousands of opinions on whether or not the NBA is handling this the right way. I’m sure many will disagree, but I think the NBA has done a great job in it’s preparation for next season. They’re doing what they can to get fans in the arenas while also doing everything they can to ensure the safety of the players and fans. It seems as if the players know the risks, both financial and health related, going into this season and fans will also know the risks of going to and attending games.

There’s no denying that money is likely the main reason to “rush” into the 2020-2021 season and have fans in the arenas. But as a business the NBA, it’s teams and it’s players rely on that money to make a living. The NBA so far has done a good job of taking care of it’s teams and players while also attempting to make sure next season is a profitable one.

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