Although many people might miss out on crowded stadiums and sporting events now, and well into the near-future as social distancing becomes the “new normal,” they may at least have the chance to watch those matches in the autumn, albeit remotely.
Gov. Phil Murphy said Tuesday evening that two major New Jersey-based sports teams – the Giants and Jets – might still play at MetLife Stadium once football season starts in the fall, but without an audience.
The National Football League’s games, the governor maintained, would lack the tens of thousands of sports fans that typically pack the arena. Instead, patrons would watch from their televisions or on the internet.
That is part of the goal from the Murphy administration and governors across the nation to promote physical distance between people, to starve the highly contagious COVID-19 virus of any potential new hosts.
Murphy was asked about the decision to allow professional sports to resume in the near-future for teams based in or playing in the Empire State this week by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
“I would be very surprised if we don’t end up in the same place,” Murphy said during a media appearance on SiriusXM radio.
“I think that’s where we’re headed,” the governor added. “I think that’s probably the right way, the right step. I just don’t see, at least this season, it’s hard for me to see a bunch of people jamming together, sitting crouched up next to each other in the near future.”
For the foreseeable future – likely much of 2020 – the state will follow a set of strict guidelines, unveiled this week, for how it will reopen as new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and fatalities continue to drop.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the state was nearing 150,000 positive cases and 11,000 fatalities from the virus.
New Jersey is currently in the first of three stages the state must go through, Murphy said, adding the state could be further along that timeline by mid-June.
“Our singular goal will be to prevent another attack by COVID-19. We will be guided by public health, data and science,” Murphy said on Monday at his daily COVID-19 press briefing in Trenton.
Murphy cautioned that high-density and indoor activities would be the last to see restrictions lifted, such as crowded concerts and sporting events.
Playing the odds
But for the time being, the ability of professional sports leagues to play at empty stadiums for tens or hundreds of thousands of internet or television spectators could spell a boom for the state’s online sports betting industry.
As gaming revenue evaporates, online sports betting and gambling have proven to be the only remaining profitable services for patrons.
During April, customers bet only $55 million at the state’s sportsbook, all of it online. As gaming regulators note, most global sporting events have been cancelled. With casinos and racetracks closed and not accepting in-person bets, brick and mortar sports wagering establishments made $0 in April.
“Although it may be some time until sports resume with live audiences, if Major League Baseball plays this summer, even to empty stadiums, it will give sports bettors something on which to wager,” said Jane Bokunewicz, who heads Stockton University’s Lloyd D. Levenson Institute for Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism.