Professional Sports Seasons Remain Undetermined

October 16, 2020
The NFL logo against a backdrop of footballs representing NFL fallout from COVID-19

written on behalf of Feigenbaum Law

It has been a few weeks since we visited the world of professional sports and how they are operating through the COVID-19 pandemic. With the NHL and NBA playoffs over, discussions have begun as to when and how play will resume for their upcoming seasons. Meanwhile, Major League Baseball is concluding their playoffs and the NFL appears to be struggling to keep their season afloat.

NFL Play is off to a Rocky Start

Unlike the NHL or NBA, who did not have to play full seasons during the pandemic, the NFL has not been operating in a bubble. Instead, teams have been hosting games in their home stadiums, some with fans, and others without. To say that things are off to a rocky start might be an understatement.

The Tennessee Titans were the first team to be impacted by the virus. Reports stated that eight people associated with the team test positive on September 29, with that number eventually growing to 24. This led to disciplinary action from the league after it was reported that the Titans were not following the NFL’s COVID-19 protocols. Around the same time, the New England Patriots saw their quarterback, Cam Newton as well as defensive player Stephon Gilmore, test positive. The COVID-19 cases within the Titans and Patriots organizations led to a number of their games being rescheduled, which has had a trickle-down effect on other games being postponed.

In more recent news, the Atlanta Falcons announced they were closing their facility following positive COVID-19 tests from a player and a staff member. It remains to be seen if they will open the stadium back up before their next home game.

All of this has caused the NFL to announce it will expand COVID-19 testing, though the league has also stated they have no plans to pivot to a bubble approach. In addition, the league’s all-star game, the Pro Bowl, has been cancelled for this year. It was originally planned to be held in Las Vegas, which is home to a new stadium for the city’s Raiders.

Re-starting Basketball and Hockey

The NBA got through its end of season and playoff bubble without any positive COVID-19 tests. Now that the Los Angeles Lakers have been crowned champions, talk has turned to the new season, which would normally be starting around now.

ESPN has reported that a December 1 start date was proposed but is now off the table. A December 25 date is also reportedly less certain than it was earlier in the year. Commissioner Adam Silver told ESPN that the next season is not likely to start before the end of the year and possibly as late as March 2021.

There are loads of details that need to be ironed out before play can resume, including a contract with players that will address the drop in revenue that teams are likely to see as a result of a drastic drop in ticket sales. Revenue splitting amongst teams and between the teams and players is going to require much negotiation.

Arena ticket and concession sales, which ESPN reported make up 40% of the league’s revenue, is also uncertain.

The same uncertainty applies to the NHL, which experienced a largely successful playoff in Edmonton and Toronto. Commissioner Gary Bettman is on the record stating that the NHL plans to hold a full regular season next year, though when that will start remains to be seen. Like the NBA, the NHL was looking towards a December start, but those plans are currently up in the air.

Mark Feigenbaum of Feigenbaum Law holds a US Masters of Laws degree in Entertainment, Media and Sports Law, and a Doctorate in Law focusing on the taxation of sports and entertainment professionals. His rare distinction in these areas is coupled with his industry experience, making Feigenbaum Law uniquely positioned to understand and advise on the complexities of tax issues for professional and elite athletes on both sides of the border. We provide our clients in sports and entertainment with personalized attention and detailed oversight of a number of issues. Contact us to learn how our skilled team can assist you. We can be reached online or by phone at (877) 275-4792.


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