When are sports coming back? The question isn’t so simple to answer.
On Friday, Marty Walsh said he was willing to reopen Fenway Park and TD Garden to allow the Red Sox, Celtics, and Bruins to play at home if their seasons resume. But no fans will be allowed, and the city of Boston will need to approve health protocol plans.
While the NFL season is still less than four months out, there’s a question if the Patriots – or any team – will be able to begin the regular season in early September.
Executing a live sporting event – especially one that will be broadcast on television, like any Celtics, Bruins, or Red Sox games would be – requires lots of staffing. From the people who manage the clubhouse, to the people picking up cords so cameramen don’t trip over them, to the trainers who help the athletes recover, it’s an enterprise.
In its proposal to the players union, MLB owners said they would prefer a team play at its home facility unless local restrictions make that impossible.
So, how ready are we to allow sports to come back? We took a look at some of the largest sports cities in North America to gauge how prepared they are, and what officials in their state have said about a return.
UPDATED: May 18, 6 p.m.
State officials unveiled a phased reopening plan on Monday, but haven’t detailed what the process means for pro sports teams.
Gatherings of more than 10 people remain banned. In Boston, Mayor Marty Walsh announced all summer festivals and parades would be canceled through at least Labor Day.
Foxborough is following state guidelines for reopening.
Governor Andrew Cuomo announced late Thursday that stay-at-home orders in parts of New York, including New York City, would be extended through the end of May.
The city is the epicenter of the outbreak in the United States, and nearly 30,000 people have died in New York alone. Next-door neighbor New Jersey, where the Giants and Jets play, has had nearly 10,000 deaths as of Friday.
But the governor is also encouraging teams to reopen in the state.
“I have been encouraging major sports teams to plan reopening without fans, but the games could be televised,” Cuomo said in a press conference Monday. “New York state would help those major sports franchises to do just that. Hockey, basketball, baseball, football - whoever can reopen, we’re a ready, willing, and able partner.”
Knicks owner James Dolan and Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon are part of a group of business leaders helping advise Cuomo on opening the state.
Parts of upstate are slowly reopening. Buffalo (Bills, Sabres) will be allowed to resume some activities this week after meeting benchmarks in declining cases.
The Patriots are scheduled to travel to Buffalo and East Rutherford in back-to-back weeks in early November.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott lifted the statewide stay-at-home order at the end of April, but Dallas County – home of the Rangers, Mavericks, and Stars – only had its order lifted on Friday.
The lifting of restrictions means places like malls, libraries, restaurants, and movie theaters can reopen at 25 percent capacity.
Texas is among the states mentioned as an option for MLB’s plan to restart the baseball season. According to CBS, it could join Florida and Arizona as the three “hubs” with other games taking place at spring training locations.
On Monday, Abbott announced that pro sports could return at the end of the month.
Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said in mid-May he does not intend to allow his team to practice in the team facility until they have “White House protocol:” the ability to administer COVID-19 tests daily. Cuban is on President Trump’s advisory panel for reopening the country, and said he’s optimistic adequate testing will be in place in one to two months.
On Wednesday, representatives from teams across the state joined a call with Texas Sen. John Cornyn, who said after that teams wanted to take measures to avoid being sued or “responsible for a public health outbreak” if they do resume games.
And on Friday, Lt. Governor Dan Patrick penned an op-ed for the Dallas Morning News calling for fans to return to stadiums.
“If fans are going to attend games this year, they are going to have to give up a little to do so,” he wrote.
Houston is home to three franchises: the Astros, Rockets, and Texans.
Abbott’s order to reopen Texas supersedes local leaders, but businesses in Houston’s Harris County not allowed back by Abbott must stay closed through May 20.
California is still under a stay-at-home order, but Governor Gavin Newsom announced in mid-May that the state would begin phasing in its lifting of restrictions. Much of the state is still under the strictest protocol, which limits gatherings to family only.
On May 12, Los Angeles County officials implied that the county – home of the Rams, Chargers, Clippers, Lakers, Dodgers, and Kings – would be under a stay-at-home order for at least the next three months, moving slower than the rest of the state toward reopening.
Orange County, home of the Angels and the Ducks, has yet to outline its plan for reopening.
In early May, Newsom said he had been in contact with league officials across the board. He said he doesn’t think games can be played in front of fans until there’s a vaccine.
“There are conditions that persist in this state and this nation that make reopening very, very challenging.”
But on Monday, he offered a ray of hope for L.A. fans:
“Sporting events, pro sports, in that first week or so of June without spectators and modifications and very prescriptive conditions also can begin to move forward,” Newsom said.
The Patriots are scheduled to spend a week in Los Angeles in December for back-to-back road games against the Chargers and Rams.
In San Diego (Padres), officials are looking to the state for guidance before lifting local restrictions.
San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose are still under a stay-at-home order, and intend to follow a similar plan as Los Angeles in moving slower than other regions toward reopening. Shelter-in-place orders are under effect through at least the end of May.
49ers general manager John Lynch said the team was looking into options when it comes to moving their training camp, which normally takes place in Santa Clara, near Levi’s Stadium.
Florida is open for business, Governor Ron DeSantis announced this week, and he wants teams to know they’ll have a home in the Sunshine State.
“All professional sports are welcome here for practicing and for playing,” DeSantis said Wednesday. “What I would tell commissioners of leagues is, if you have a team in an area where they just won’t let them operate, we’ll find a place for you here in the state of Florida.”
Florida has been floated as an option for MLB’s restart plan, along with Arizona and Texas. Teams could play at their minor league facilities.
Miami, however, is still under stay-at-home guidelines through Monday. After the 18th, some non-essential businesses will be allowed to open in Miami-Dade County – home of the Marlins, Heat, and Dolphins – and in Broward County, where the Panthers play.
Orlando has been floated as an option for MLS, which has proposed a “bubble” containment plan that would require players to gather in Orlando and remain sequestered.
Elsewhere in the state, Jacksonville has already hosted UFC matches. DeSantis declared sports “essential” last month, which allowed UFC and WWE to host events in empty arenas.
The Tampa Bay area was able to reopen partially last week, along with much of the rest of the state.
Stay-at-home restrictions in Arizona were lifted on Friday, and earlier this week, Governor Doug Ducey announced the state was open for business for pro sports. That includes Phoenix.
“We have had discussions with leaders with some of these leagues, and they all know they are welcome to operate, play and perform in the state of Arizona,” Ducey said, with the caveat that fans would not be allowed to attend games and that public health protocols must be followed.
Arizona is one of the “hubs” being explored by MLB for a return to play.
The state took its first steps toward reopening last weekend, allowing some businesses to open their doors. In April, Governor Jared Polis said the state would follow the lead of the pro sports leagues when it comes to a timetable for games to be played.
"Whether it's reduced capacity at stadiums or empty stadiums, we are all exploring that.”
But Denver – home of the Rockies, Nuggets, Avalanche and Broncos – is still asking residents to take extra precautions, and gatherings in the city are still limited to fewer than 10 people through at least May 26.
The Nuggets are one of a handful of NBA teams that have reopened their facilities for players under league guidelines, which limit the amount of players at the gym at any given time.
District of Columbia
District of Columbia mayor Muriel Bowser extended the city’s stay-at-home order through June 8. A self-professed Nationals fan, she said she’d like to be able to watch the team on TV, but implied it would be unlikely to have fans in the stands at games.
The Redskins play in nearby Landover, Md., part of Prince George’s County, which is following the guidelines of D.C. due to its proximity to the nation’s capital.
Georgia began lifting its coronavirus restrictions on April 24, and a shelter-in-place order ended on April 30. Earlier this week, the Hawks reopened their training facility in Atlanta.
But a ban on gatherings of 10 or more is still in place through the end of May.
Last month, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker extended a statewide stay-at-home order through the end of May.
On May 5, he announced the state’s five-stage plan to return to normalcy. According to the Chicago Tribune, pro sports wouldn’t return to normalcy until the final stage – when a vaccine or cure is found.
But in Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said on April 27 that she could see games this summer in her city – without fans. Right now, the main concourse at Wrigley Field is currently being used as a satellite site for a Chicago food pantry.
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer unveiled a six-part plan to reopen the state recently, but said that it could vary by region, including in Detroit.
When asked on Tuesday, she said there is “reason to feel some confidence” when it comes to allowing pro sports to be played, but acknowledged “we’re not going to be filling stadiums in the fall.”
The state is under a stay-at-home order through May 28, and the governor acknowledged that it could be extended. Some restrictions were relaxed in late April. In Detroit, any gatherings – including team sports – are prohibited.
Minnesota’s stay-at-home order is expiring Monday, but the state is not reopening fully. Gatherings of more than 10 people are still banned. That applies to sporting events in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
In the first phase of reopening, restaurants, salons, and indoor arenas are still closed – and will be through at least June 1.
On May 4, Missouri entered the next phase of its reopening plan, which lifted restrictions on gatherings – with social distancing still required.
But Kansas City is under a stay-at-home order until May 15. The mayor said he would like to see events with larger crowds – around 100 – in the city this summer.
The Patriots travel to Kansas City in October to play the Super Bowl champion Chiefs. Arrowhead Stadium seats more than 75,000.
Restrictions in Pennsylvania are beginning to be lifted in parts of the state, but Philadelphia remains under strict stay-at-home orders, and only “life-sustaining” businesses are allowed to be open.
The order was extended in early May until June 4.
In Pittsburgh, social distancing guidelines are still in place but a stay-at-home order has been lifted. Gatherings of 25 or more are still banned.
Seattle, the site of the first coronavirus outbreak in the US in March, entered its first phase of reopening in early May while extending its stay-home order through the end of the month.
Each phase will be no shorter than three weeks, and recreational sports will be welcomed back in Phase 3. Public gatherings are still banned in Seattle, with just some nonessential businesses allowed to reopen.
Toronto is an interesting case. Non-essential travel between the US and Canada has been banned since the pandemic hit North America.
Restrictions in Ontario, where Toronto is located, will begin to lift on May 19. Outdoor recreational activities will be allowed to restart, but citizens are still only allowed to gather in groups of five or fewer.
The official who oversees sporting groups in Canada told the New York Times last month that the country is unlikely to see any large gatherings before the end of summer – and that includes pro sporting events – but that local governments may be able to try to play without fans.
The Raptors allowed players to return to their practice facility this week, under previously set NBA guidelines.