COVID Fatigue And The Return To Sports Venues

Our ongoing research continues to reinforce a theme of “two Americas” in respect to attitudes and behaviors surrounding the pandemic, and the specific implications for live sports are quite provocative.

Our most recent November research itself shows a rise in national concerns about the increasing dangers of public gatherings, along with acknowledgement that the pandemic is getting worse.

Yet, concurrently, we are seeing a linear increase in the number of those re-engaging in favorite activities, including sports events, where it is permissible.  The number of those who strongly agree that they are strictly following stay at home and social distancing guidelines in place in their areas has slipped to an eight-month low.

We also now see just under one in five (18%) fans who attended a sporting event in the past year, indicate that they have returned to game attendance within the past month.  Incidence is highest in the Midwest and Southern U.S., but overall, this represents a high point since March.

Similarly, the number of those indicating their likelihood to attend a sporting event over the next two months, is also at an eight-month high.   This is not unique to sports fans. We are also seeing new highs for those who indicate readiness to resume commercial air travel without any further assurances from authorities.

What is behind the surface of these contradictions in respondents’ buy-in to the threat of COVID surges, at the same time they are increasing their re-engagement in favorite activities?

The research suggests several driving factors. People are rightly or wrongly minimizing their own prospects for contracting COVID. In an almost Darwinian assumption, many feel less threatened by the potential ramifications of contracting the virus and are finding a way to “manage” the risks in their own minds.

This bravado is reinforced by the observation of contradictory behaviors among some of the very authorities that are imposing or urging restrictive behavior and then being shown eschewing their own recommendations.  In a sports setting, the contradictions are even more vivid, where one can watch football games in empty stadiums in the Northeast and West, while at the same time seeing crowds in excess of 30,000 in other locales.

And uplifting news about the imminence of vaccine approval has a majority of survey respondents envisioning a return to normalcy before April.

My place here as a researcher is not to cast judgment on these behaviors and attitudes, but to merely observe and interpret their implications for sports properties.  With that in mind, I certainly see demand for live sports spiking, just as positive COVID tests are doing the same.

For those properties that have “all clear,” have listened to their customers and are prepared to deliver an in-venue experience that meets required protocols, the light at the end of the tunnel may be closer than it otherwise appears.