Will coronavirus concerns force sports leagues to close doors to fans?

In the U.S., where the spread of the virus has been more limited, college and professional sports leagues have largely been unaffected. Still, if the situation worsens, leagues would likely prefer to hold games without fans instead of cancelling them, partially because of the significant financial implications involved.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has provided guidance on how to manage mass gatherings. But on Thursday, the Santa Clara County Public Health Department, a local health agency in California, requested that organizers cancel large public events, including sporting events. The NHL’s San Jose Sharks, one of the pro sports teams in the county, acknowledged that recommendation but played its Thursday night game as scheduled.

Sharks Sports & Entertainment said in a statement, “We will be evaluating further upcoming events in the coming days.” The Golden State Warriors, playing in San Francisco’s Chase Center, said in a statement Friday that their Saturday game – broadcast nationally on ABC – “will continue as scheduled.” But the team advised fans who are feeling under the weather to not attend.

“Any guest who is feeling unwell, regardless of their symptoms, should not attend public events. Also, the Warriors are also encouraging vulnerable populations, such as persons with underlying health conditions, not to attend tomorrow night’s Warriors game at Chase Center,” their statement read.

Financial, broadcasting layers

As of Thursday, the only significant American sports cancellations related to the COVID-19 involved Chicago State University, a Division I school which canceled some of its women’s and men’s basketball games — including a road trip to the Seattle area, where the majority of American cases of coronavirus have been diagnosed.

Major sports organizations — including the MLB, NCAA, NBA and NHL — have taken more measured steps, forming panels to monitor coronavirus-related risks and asking athletes to avoid high-fives.

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