The Future of Sports Is Difficult to Predict, But Fans Clearly Want Them Back, and Soon

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This photo from a 1918 football game at Georgia Tech was published in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. It was provided to the newspaper by Andy McNeil, the great-grandson of the photographer.

NEW YORK—This coronavirus situation has left many of us with more than enough time to contemplate the future, especially as it relates to our businesses and professions. What will optical retail look like in 2021? What about eyecare and independent optometry practices? How will the conventional sales call be transformed? What about industry meetings? The one thing that seems certain around all of these questions is that no one really knows right now what the future will look like. It’s going to be a wait-and-see evolution.

Sports was more or less in this same boat back in April, but now some of the pieces of the puzzle are beginning to fall into place. Pro leagues are opening practice sites and debating scheduling options, while colleges are welcoming student-athletes back on campus.

We also have some history with sports in the midst of a pandemic, going back more than 100 years to 1918 when a strain of the flu swept the globe and left an estimated 50 million to 100 million fatalities in its wake. (My colleague Mary Kane wrote about the 1918 flu in a prescient Today’s Read —“Why the Flu Can Be Such a Killer” —back in 2018.)

Hitting even closer to home for those of us who follow sports is the powerful main image with this story—a photo of the bleachers during a 1918 Georgia Tech football game. This picture, which has almost a surreal quality, depicts the way some major sports continued in 1918 even in the midst of a health crisis.

Just looking at this photo leads one to wonder if there will be similar situations at stadiums across the U.S. in the next few months as event-starved fans—some would say “fearless fans”—head to ballgames or other sporting events.

This vintage photo was taken by Thomas Frederick Carter, a student at Georgia Tech at the time, and it was published earlier this month by the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Much like today, as most public places were closed and people scrambled in 1918 to keep their face masks nearby, “sporting events tried to find their place in the midst of the Spanish flu contagion,” the newspaper noted.

“Every time I see (the photo), it just reminds me what they had to deal with it back then, and we’re dealing with it now,” Andy McNeil, a great-grandson of Carter, told the Atlanta newspaper (McNeil has a framed copy of the photo in his home office in Atlanta, according to the newspaper report.)

And it’s certainly evident today that sports are trying desperately to find their place in the world. While many fans are optimistic and hopeful that sports will resume, there remain dozens of questions about player safety, travel restrictions and even salaries. How these questions are answered remains a mystery.

Vmail Weekend
asked a few optical industry executives for their thoughts on whether the major sports leagues and colleges will resume play this year. Here’s what they told us (and if you would like to add your comment to this rundown, send it to

Lisa Praeger
VP, U.S. Vision Care, Field Sales

Football will be back for the Fall! Go Oregon Ducks!

Sean Clark
General Manager, U.S. Vision Care

We all know that Green and Yellow are the best colors!

Benjamin S Chudner, OD, FAAO
VP, Eyecare / Chief Medical Officer

AEG Vision

I believe that most major sports will return in some form this year, even if it’s just an abbreviated schedule. I don’t think they will allow fans at first, but I am currently planning to buy tickets to see the Seahawks when they travel to Buffalo later this year.

Jeff Todd
President and Chief Executive
Prevent Blindness

Jeff Todd celebrates the Cubs’ World Series title in 2016.
My prediction is, “We’ll get through this in time to see the Chicago Cubs win another World Series this Fall!”

Bart Welch, ABOC
Director, Key Accounts – U.S. & Caribbean

Bart Welch with his daughter, Karli, outside Clemson’s “Death Valley” stadium in happier times for college football fans.
As for sports, (you know the one thing that seems to bring us all together as one), it is not “IF,” it is ‘WHEN.” UFC and NASCAR started the movement and I predict the PGA (June) and MLB, ATA, WTA (July) will be closely behind. And last but not least…. FOOTBALL (both College and the NFL). Let’s just say that I already have plans to be sitting in Death Valley in August for every home game rooting my Clemson Tigers to another Championship title.

Maria Sampalis, OD

Maria Sampalis enjoys a day in quarantine with her children.
I think football will be back in September. I think that the teams will play without fans at first and slowly phase fans in with proper precautions.

Elisa Sugg
Senior Engagement Manager
ABB Optical Group

ABB Optical logo
I think for the rest of the year it will be limited seating or even without fans in the seats for professional sporting events. My hope is they televise sporting events for free, to help us to focus on some fun and ease some stress in the U.S.

Keith M. Cross
Optical Monomers and Coatings

Keith Cross (right), with former Notre Dame quarterback Tony Rice, wants to be back in his Blue & Gold attire this fall.
The one thing that divides most Americans the most, other than politics—is sports! And when I say divide—I also mean unite. As we may cheer for different teams, in general all of us have a love for sports in one way or another and this love is what divides and unites us at the same time. Some people love to cheer for their team and others want to cheer against another team—and some just enjoy the pomp and circumstance of tailgates and other typical game day fanfare and rituals.

One of the hardest parts of this pandemic has been not having that universal distraction that is “the game.” Sports is a great way to forget about everything else for brief period—to live and die on each pitch or first down or goal. Sports has always been a simple but symbolic way to unite Americans after a tragedy—and this pandemic is no different. Americans are in dire need of the unique ability that sports have to unite us—and I personally cannot wait for this to happen. So as to if and when sports will return this fall—I am very optimistic that they will, albeit under different circumstances than we would hope.

I know that some college football programs are planning for reduced capacity in the stadiums between 25 percent to 50 percent, not allowing tailgating on campus and giving those who do get into the game specific entry times and locations. I would imagine that playing in empty stadiums may be a difficult choice versus not playing at all—but am hopeful that we will see sports resume again this fall—even if we have to adjust a bit.

I am very much looking forward to putting on the Blue & Gold to cheer for my Fighting Irish on Saturdays and then the red, white and blue to cheer for the Patriots (and against the Buccaneers) on Sundays. Even sooner than that—I am very hopeful that baseball can resume as well, again even if it’s modified from what we have been used to—what better to distract us a bit from the day to day than a Red Sox vs Yankees series!

So, I say Yes—sports are coming back! Hopefully sooner rather than later and even if it is a little different than what we are used to.

Sean Pate
Brand Communications Officer
Zenni Optical

I expect we’ll see major professional sports all return later this summer and into the fall. At Zenni, we’re certainly anxious for their return as we have major partnerships with the Chicago Bulls and San Francisco 49ers that have been doing great work elevating our brand. While every league is presented with a myriad of challenges to executing its respective sport, we’ve already seen leagues in Europe and Asia resume play providing some confidence and blueprint.

What is very much unknown at present is what role the fans will be able to play in the live competitions. It’s very conceivable to execute sports with players and essential staff only, but to what degree will it be deemed acceptable or safe for fans to share in the in-game experience.

My guess is there will be some limited level of access even with social distancing measures in play. It may vary from state to state depending on the level or precaution defined by local governments, especially with respect to collegiate sports. The professional ranks will likely enact uniform measures for this and potentially gradually admit more fans into events as time progresses.

It’s all guesswork and speculation, but save another massive outbreak of the virus, sports are too woven into the fabric of American life and leisure to remain dormant as we resume our daily lives.

Justine Chiricosta, CPA
Director of Finance, Commercial
ABB Optical Group

Our national pastime will soon be live in action again in our nation’s capital. [Justine, shown here during a baseball game at Nationals Stadium in Washington, D.C.]

Dan Bliss
SD Eyes

Baseball – I think baseball is one game that could play without the fans and the competitiveness would still be at a high level. And I’m talking purely on playing the game and not what is good for the fan base or the players. I don’t believe the screaming fan has much of an effect on the pitchers’ break on the next curve ball or the ability for the better to check his swing on something low and away. And I think the true baseball fan could enjoy watching the game on TV and still see its competitive spirit. Now will it happen ………. Probably not.

There naturally are concerns for the safety of the players and all of the team support staff. Where will they or their families stay while playing this game? And, of course, we have contractual issues for both the players and ownership that would certainly complicate things. Imagine your star player gets hurt in what some are going to see as a meaningless shortened season and his long term abilities are affected.

Just let the season slip away is probably best. At least my beloved Pittsburgh Pirates can’t lose 100 games this year.

As for the other sports, the NBA? Only the teams in the playoff hunt want to play for the coveted championship ring. Does that player on the NY Knicks really want to play out this season?? And for what? But basketball is one sport that I believe is truly affected by a fan base not being present.

I do feel the ebb and flow of a basketball game is definitely affected by the roar of the crowd. Too much emotional energy to be given off by the fan which does affect the outcome of a game. Without fans, it would not be the same. And even if they tried something sans fans, would everybody want to play?

Football? Well, time will tell on that one. Fingers crossed that we do not need to go a full sports year with every major sport having some sort of hiccup (sorry do not follow hockey that well).

The game is always better with a live fan base. Some can keep the high level of play a little better than others. But in this day and age of big money contracts, health of the athlete and the owners’ need for revenue, well, boy am I glad I just work in the eyewear business!