The basics of the new norm

THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco - The Philippine Star

Everyone wants to get back to normal, and as soon as possible. After the government announced its guidelines for which businesses and citizens will be allowed to return to some semblance of normalcy, all those excluded raised a howl. Teenagers, senior citizens, gym owners and those in the fitness industry complained loudly about being sidelined for their own protection. Gym owners and operators questioned why salons and spas and massage parlors and barber shops were categorized as essential for health and well-being, while they weren’t. And they have a point.

Meanwhile, mainstream sports will be the hardest to justify. In times of crisis, sport is considered a luxury; and spectators have always been considered an integral part of any sporting event. Crowds are what sponsors look for. Obviously, crowds will be a no-no. And truthfully, our lives may only return to normal once a vaccine for COVID-19 has been developed, tested, manufactured and widely distributed. All told, that will take between one to two years. Hopefully, government actually does allow some non-contact sports to resume, as announced earlier this week.

So given the circumstances, can we hazard a guess as to what sports will look like in the immediate future?

Social distancing sports. Sports where there is no contact between opposing players, or where opposing players take turns, will obviously be safer in the meantime. Tennis, badminton, sepak takraw and the like provide a natural barrier between players. Weightlifting, darts, dancesport, shooting, and the like would appear to be palatable, with standard personal protection equipment in use, of course. Races like sprints or swims might be allowed, but possible if runners go one at a time, instead of in heats.

Single-venue team sports. Major League Baseball (MLB) and the NBA are considering resuming operations, albeit with a single venue. MLB is looking at Arizona; the NBA is thinking of Walt Disney World in Florida. Both have warm climates, which supposedly help lower the risk of infection. The challenges will include the quarantine of players in hotels adjacent to or near the venue, which theme parks already have. Players and officials will also have to be tested at least weekly. All this effort will save some of the television viewership and advertising revenues, and some endorsement income players may have. Games can be played throughout the day, as in the Olympics (six games a day) with suitable time in between to disinfect the playing court. Of course, the players will be separated from their families, which they are not used to. The good news is that they’ll have the sports market all to themselves. But in the Philippines, where budgets are considerably smaller, teams will likely not sequester players. And it is doubtful if everyone will be tested every week. Everyone will look for an exemption.

E-games. Electronic games had built really large followings through the last decade. They also filled up large arenas with rabid fans. Now, they’ll have to take a step back and play matches in closed-door venues. The good news is that they can hold tournaments in smaller venues, as long as they maintain the natural safe distances between teams and players. Unlike online games, teams have to be in the same place, since they feed off the same wireless signal, to be fair. Practice will be a different matter though, unless teams already stay together full-time.

More betting. Without the adrenaline rush of being in a live venue, some fans will seek some ways to add excitement to their viewing. This writer foresees an eventual rise in online sports betting once pro sports resume operations in any form. In fact, they will probably get more intricate to raise the excitement level. Instead of just the outcome of a game of the point spread, it’s possible that patrons will be able to place bets on quarter scores or even individual player match-ups. This may be a patch job on the vacuum of not being able to go to the games themselves.

Drive-in games? This may seem far-fetched and outlandish, but it is being discussed. Some outdoor sports may allow live spectators in the venue, as long as they stay in the safety of their vehicles. NASCAR allows paying spectators and their vehicles in the middle of the track. In this post-pandemic case, a limited number of vehicles may be allowed to pay to park within the venue, and have large screens and speakers so they can follow the action. In drive-in movie theaters of old, each parking spot had wired speakers that clipped onto the window frame of the car. This could conceivably be applied to any outdoor sport. You can imagine cars instead of people surrounding a live boxing match. The live gate receipts will be lower, but that’s how it will have to be for now. The alternative would be to build cubicles or luxury boxes, but then they would need air conditioning.

Living in the past. Since everyone is inactive, action has been replaced with discussion and analysis. There has been a proliferation of discussions via videoconferencing, with the distinct difference of broadcasters now often wearing house clothes, unshaven and under poor lighting. A lot of the conversations are usually reminiscences with retired basketball players. Unfortunately, since sports people in the Philippines are very polite, we don’t get the controversial comments and pointed opinions as, let’s say, “The Last Dance,” which stirs up old feuds from 20 years ago. Sadly, when broadcasting from home, you also don’t have access to highlights, B-roll and editing. The best you can do is “borrow” visuals from online sources, or hold old photos up to the camera.

There will be little to write about in sports for still a long time to come. The question now is who will be the first to smith the new broadcasting norms given the situation, and pull in the audience for it.



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