Outstanding or Outbreak? Reviewing the World’s Top Sports Leagues in the COVID-19 Pandemic

Allison Doyle

Despite still being in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it didn’t take too long for the sports world to reawaken. Thankfully, the major sports leagues in the US and abroad have adapted to our current global state and are once again gracing our TV screens. However, the process couldn’t have been easy and there were plenty of obstacles to overcome. Here’s a little insight into how some of the world’s most popular sports leagues have fared since the onset of COVID-19 and how successful each league’s restart/start was.


CAPTION: With the coronavirus pandemic still looming, all levels of sports must follow social distancing and wear masks both inside and outside.



Restart Date: July 30th, 2020

The suspension of the 2019-20 NBA season on March 11th 2020 shook the world — let alone the sporting world — to its core. It’s viewed as one of the first big dominoes to fall in an effect that would eventually shut down the entire country. Nonetheless, the season’s restart beginning on July 30th can be viewed as a major success from a health perspective. The bubble existed for around 3 months, with no outbreaks of the virus and zero interruptions to the season which ended on October 11th. While this “bubble” format prevented the spread of COVID-19, its former residents probably won’t rave about it in the future. Washington Post journalist Ben Golliver says he’ll “remember the bubble fondly, but [he] won’t miss much”. Although the players and staff were kept entertained by fishing, bike riding, and board games by the pool, many still felt trapped and unmotivated. Recently crowned champion LeBron James even revealed his thoughts to the press: “I’ve had numerous nights & days thinking about leaving. I think everyone has, including you (media) guys. There’s not 1 person who hasn’t (thought), “I’ve got to get the hell out of here.’”



Start Date: July 23rd, 2020

By the time COVID-19 reached the United States, the 2020 MLB season hadn’t even begun. After two months of disagreements between team owners and the player’s association, a revised version of the season began in late July, with each team playing a 60 game season. This year’s postseason tournament features 16 teams instead of the normal 10, with the World Series concluding in late October. However, the season was riddled with positive cases and game postponements for various reasons. A total of 40 games had to be postponed throughout the season due to positive tests among players and the August shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin. The Miami Marlins and St. Louis Cardinals harbored the largest COVID-19 outbreaks, as well as various positive cases among the New York Mets, Cincinnati Reds, and others. Simultaneously, frustrations grew with good reason: traveling across the country to play games will always be looked at as a major risk. Marlins CEO Derek Jeter even condemned his own team for failing to adequately follow mask and social distancing guidelines. Somehow, the Dodgers and Rays prevailed over both the competition and the virus to make it to the World Series.



Start Date: September 10th, 2020

It’s no surprise that the 2020 NFL season started on schedule: football runs in America’s blood. As always, this season has brought numerous new faces and even a few name changes: the Oakland Raiders are now residents of Las Vegas, and the former Washington Redskins are now simply known as the Washington Football Team. But, no sports season is immune to COVID-19’s impact. Only a month into the season, however and the NFL has already reported dozens of positive cases. The Tennessee Titans reported 10 positive cases in their camp on September 30th, causing a chain effect of game postponements and training shutdowns. Additionally, New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton tested positive for COVID-19 on October 3rd, followed by multiple teammates and resulting in schedule changes throughout this month. The season is not at risk of collapse yet, but the NFL have no plans to enter individual team bubbles at present. On top of all this, some teams have started to allow fans back into stadiums! Attendance numbers still depend on the state guidelines at the time of the game.


MLS/European Soccer

Start Dates: July 8th, 2020; June 2020

Similar to the NBA, the 2020 MLS season was suspended indefinitely back in March. Their plans to restart over the summer were announced around the same time as the NBA’s, with their newly dubbed “MLS Is Back Tournament” also taking place at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Florida. The tournament featured 24 teams each playing three group stages matches, with the top 16 teams progressing to the knockout stages (Nashville SC and FC Dallas pulled out of the tournament before it began due to COVID-19 outbreaks within both teams). The final was played on August 11th, with Portland Timbers winning 1-0 against Orlando City SC. Despite Portland being crowned the victors, the 2020 season is not yet over: the “second phase” of the restart consists of regular season games home and away, with the Canadian teams finally joining the mix.

As for our friends across the pond, the 2019-2020 Premier League also faced a lengthy pause between March and June. On June 17th, the league resumed under “Project Restart”, with the aim of finishing the season with enough time to complete European competitions and incorporate a preseason for the 2020-202l season. All games were played behind closed doors, and the number of available substitutions per game was increased from 3 to 5. In just over a month, all 92 remaining games were played. Players and staff members from all 20 teams were tested at least once a week. Miraculously, out of nearly 21,000 tests taken, only 20 players/staff members ever tested positive. “Project Restart” was dubbed a huge success and many of its rules have carried over into the current Premier League season. However, due to the rising number of coronavirus cases in England currently, some of the league’s biggest talents are contracting the virus. It remains to be seen whether or not the league will undergo a second suspension if the coronavirus continues to spread so rapidly.