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Coronavirus Outbreak Means An Idle March For American Sports


And now to sports, where coronavirus is also taking a toll.


ADAM SILVER: I think we're at the point now that this has been declared a pandemic - that it's virtually impossible to contain it and it's going to become widespread. And the NBA community is not immune.

MONTAGNE: That's NBA Commissioner Adam Silver on TNT after the league announced Wednesday night that it would suspend the season. Other leagues have canceled or postponed their own competitions and events - Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, Major League Soccer, the Masters Golf Tournament, the Boston Marathon and college basketball.

Joining us is NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman. Well, good morning, but not a very happy morning for those who are interested in sports.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Yeah, that list there just about covered it, Renee - not much left.

MONTAGNE: Unprecedented, really. I mean, Thursday, news came that just about every major event, as we're hearing, including March Madness, will not happen, at least for the time being. So how to begin with the impacts, which will be huge?

GOLDMAN: Yeah. You know one thing fans are wondering - what will ESPN and the other TV networks that rely heavily on live sports - what are they going to broadcast? Probably a mix of sports news - what there is of it - archival footage from past games, documentaries, talk-debate shows, although what will they debate with no live action?

MONTAGNE: Right. And also, what you've got is financial impacts - big time.

GOLDMAN: You do. I mean, the potential impacts on those sports TV networks from lost ad revenue. And does anything happen to the enormous fees networks pay to sports leagues for the rights to broadcast games? Will those be altered in some way? And if they're reduced, what's the impact on players who get a lot of their huge salaries from TV money?

Of course, there's also the financial impact on all the people associated with sporting events - stadium and arena workers. They're now out of work. A nice story is emerging about a number of NBA and NHL athletes and teams donating money to help those event workers.

And then specifically in baseball, there's an effort to help raise money for minor league players who traditionally are underpaid and now will be even more so. They only get paid during their regular season, and now that's delayed for who knows how long.

MONTAGNE: Right, and even something like the Boston Marathon - that's huge money coming into the city, and that's spread out over hotels and restaurants...

GOLDMAN: Yeah, right.

MONTAGNE: ...And all kinds of things. So you've got that, too.

We know canceling large events right at this moment is really important for public - from the public health standpoint, but March is one of the big months in American sports. So what do you see we're going to be losing?

GOLDMAN: You know, it could be argued, Renee, March is the biggest month for sports fans. I mean, they experience the hope of a baseball season starting, the drama of pro basketball and hockey, the hockey regular season in their final runs to the playoffs, and then, of course, the drama of March Madness - the men's and women's Division I basketball tournaments. They pretty much always deliver - the games, the office pools. Even nonsports fans engage in that event.

And for the athletes, so many seniors losing out on a last chance. I think of one in particular who's gotten a lot of attention. Oregon women's basketball star Sabrina Ionescu probably would've been the first pick in the WNBA draft after last season, but she decided to come back for this, her senior season, to try to lead Oregon to its first title. The Ducks were well positioned as the second-ranked team in the nation in the final ranking this week.

There's a glimmer of hope, though. There's talk of the NCAA extending eligibility for not just the basketball players, but all the college athletes in winter and spring sports who had their seasons canceled this week.

MONTAGNE: And there, very briefly, the Olympics still on.

GOLDMAN: Right now, but there are warning signs there, too, with Olympic qualifying events having been recently postponed.

MONTAGNE: Tom Goldman - NPR's Tom Goldman, thanks very much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome, Renee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.
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