Covid-19’s Impact on the NFL and NBA and How They Are Coping

By: Sloane O'Conner'22 and Dante Ornelas'24

Covid-19 has had a major impact on every facet of human life, from how we go to school to how we shop for groceries, how we travel, work, and spend time with our families. Another thing Covid-19 has changed is sports. However, just like Covid, the changes are different in every part of the globe. Some solutions go from an exclusive player and coaching personnel bubble to just not letting fans in but one thing is for certain, it is changing every sport on the globe. However to understand the true scale of the impact you have to look at the two biggest professional sports leagues in our country which are the NFL and the NBA. All of these sports want to keep their leagues operational during this time, and are pursuing different ways to continue to play and allow a fan experience. Sports is just one of many examples of how humanity adjusts to a crisis and develops creative solutions. In a time when people are divided, sports can continue to bring us together again, even in a virtual way. 


Even as the vaccine begins to roll out, we are seeing a resurgence in COVID infections across the nation and much of the world. This could have an impact on sports and the continuation of the current seasons or the start of new seasons. So far, teams continue to play and come up with adaptive solutions. Many teams are seeing COVID infection numbers rising and with that, games are being postponed to prevent any massive outbreaks. Some say that playing sports through COVID is foolish, but as long infection numbers are low, the season will continue.


The NFL has been dealing with COVID with an underlying rule for all the teams that if there are infections the games will be postponed until further notice. Different cities are handling in-person attendance in various ways; some are allowing 50% in the stadium and some are allowing none. The NFL is different from other leagues in that they are not as strict with players and are not using a “bubble strategy” which was used by the NBA and the NHL during their spring playoffs. Recently the NFL has had a wave of positive COVID tests leading many to think that the season could be canceled or even postponed until the cases could be managed. However, the league has just chosen to postpone the games of the infected teams and to keep the rest of the league playing. This has worked but does create a lot of stress on players who sometimes have to play 2 games in 3 days. Due to this new and congested schedule, there has been an uptick in player injuries.

The NBA addressed COVID by resuming their season that had been postponed and playing the playoffs in a bubble. This was shown to be an effective way to slow the spread of COVID while also being able to enjoy the sport. The NBA also did not let fans into the arenas because in their view there was no effective way to social distance while inside. NBA players were fined for breaking the bubble rules and were scorned publicly and on social media for risking public health. This proved effective as more NBA players started taking these rules seriously.  It became clear that if they wanted to play, they would have to abide by the rules made by the NBA to prevent outbreaks on teams. In the event that there was an outbreak the game would be postponed and the whole team and any within recent contact of members of the organization would be tested and quarantined. The NBA successfully held the remainder of the season and the playoff. Many people view the way the NBA handled COVID to be exemplary,  and believe that other professional sports organizations should handle the situation the same way.


Both of these sports have taken different approaches to contain the outbreak of COVID while allowing games to continue. However, the NBA focused on the safety of players and staff by making them stay in a bubble, while the NFL provides tests and restricts players who test positive. There are two things that happened in both leagues: an increase in injuries because players are being forced to play more games in a tighter window, and the change in the fan experience has reduced revenue and changed the connection between the fans and their teams.