Sports fans weigh whether to attend games amid coronavirus outbreak

SportsPulse: Founder, CEO and President of United Entertainment Group, Jarrod Moses, spoke with USA TODAY Sports about the possibility of sports arenas and stadiums being empty with growing fears surrounding the coronavirus. USA TODAY

Amid the growing coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, Los Angeles Lakers star Anthony Davis and a few of his teammates have new nickname.

“Everybody was playing and goofing around and calling us the Corona Boys,” Davis said after a video appeared to show Davis licking his hand then high-fiving LeBron James and Avery Bradley.

But Davis contends, “When we were out there I never licked my fingers, because I thought about that actually before I did it. … I actually thought about it and I was like, 'Don't do it.' So I kind of like mimicked it and it was like this whole little thing. I'm cleaner than that."

It was a lighthearted moment tucked into a serious situation with pro sports leagues contemplating playing games with no fans.

The outbreak has given fans reason to pause and consider whether it’s worth attending when government officials have told people to avoid large crowds and college conferences have canceled tournaments or are holding conference tournaments with essential personnel only and no fans.

You’re a fan of a team, but you have limited opportunities to watch that team play in person. You spent good money to see that team play. Maybe you traveled across the country. Maybe you traveled across the world.

What is a sports fan to do? Go or stay home? Depends on the circumstances and whom you ask, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the high-profile immunologist who is the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“We would recommend that there not be large crowds," Fauci said during a congressional hearing on Wednesday. “If that means not having any people in the audience when the NBA plays, so be it.”

Said Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Andrew Chafin: "I think every player in here thrives off of the cheering, the booing, just the environment, the intensity from the crowd. You take that away, it’s going to completely change the feel of the game. It’s going to feel like a backfield game in the spring. But if it comes to that, we’ll adapt and we’ll do the best we can to go out and perform the best we can."

NBA owners are scheduled to have a conference call later Wednesday to discuss options.

Leslie Wong traveled from Australia to Los Angeles and watched the Lakers play the Brooklyn Nets on Tuesday. He also plans to attend Saturday’s Los Angeles Clippers-New Orleans Pelicans game and Monday’s Clippers-Dallas Mavericks game.

“I’m really not concerned,” he said of coronavirus.

He even got Nets center Jarrett Allen to sign a jersey, using a pen he gave him — a no-no according to a memo sent to teams and players instructing players to avoid signing autographs temporarily.

Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo enjoys the interaction between fans and players, especially at spring training in more intimate settings. He has his concerns.

"And I’m not just worried for us, I’m worried for the fans, too," Lovullo said. "So as we’re interacting with the fans, who’s to say that we wouldn’t be transmitting something between fans? So it’s a tough needle to thread because we want to connect with our fans, they deserve that connection with us, we connect with the community whenever we can. But I think we have to start thinking of some mindful solutions.”

Tim Smith is a sports fan living on Staten Island in New York City, a region were the number of coronavirus cases is growing. He and his dad have a half-season ticket package to New York Rangers games and they have attended the past two home games.

Smith and his dad plan to attend Big East Tournament basketball games at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday and NCAA men’s basketball tournament games in Albany, New York next week.

“We’re more concerned about not being allowed to go rather than making a choice not to go,” Smith told USA TODAY Sports via email. “I’m 28, my dad is 62. My brother is a physician and he has advised us that he thinks we are OK going. The bigger concern he showed is for my grandfather who is in his 80s.

“In short, the virus isn’t changing our plans, YET. Should it keep progressing, things may change. Right now we aren’t changing our plans.”

Staten Island’s Joseph Ostapiuk, 24, has a ticket for Monday’s Rangers-Calgary Flames game at Madison Square Garden and plans to go.

“I already decided to not take the subway to the game and will avoid people as much as possible on the Staten Island Ferry, while also washing my hands and such as frequently as possible throughout the trip,” Ostapiuk told USA TODAY Sports via email. “I am curious how the virus will affect interactions during the game (things like high-fives after goals), but definitely know I will be more conscious of my contact with people directly surrounding me during the game, since the virus is spread by extended close contact. I plan to go, if authorities permit it, but it will surely be unlike any other game I've attended before.”

Lawrence McBride of Oceanside, Calif., attended the Lakers-Nets game with his son Logan and had tickets near the tunnel where Lakers players enter and exit the court. They also had no qualms about being in an arena with thousands of people.

“A lot of hysteria over it,” McBride said. “Everything about it is overexaggerated. I think there have been 12 deaths in the U.S (31 as of Wednesday morning). It wouldn’t stop me from doing anything.”

Steven Schwartz is a Rangers fan living in Dallas and attended Tuesday’s home game in Dallas only because it was the Rangers. “If this game was against any other team, I’d be at home,” he said via email. “And this is going to be the last game I go to for a while. Three confirmed cases where I live, just north of Dallas. This is it. I’ll travel for work, if I have to. But otherwise, I’m staying home.”

Some fans are using the coronavirus to look for cheaper tickets on the resale market, and for the right game, there might be a deal to score. But even Friday’s Washington Wizards-Boston Celtics game is not a cheap ticket, and Thursday’s Celtics-Milwaukee Bucks game in Milwaukee is a tough ticket with courtside seats going for $1,000-plus on

“I don't go to a ton of Rangers games, but COVID-19 hasn't deterred me from going,” Vasilis Drimalitis told USA TODAY Sports via email. “I was just there with friends on March 7th. Truth be told, COVID-19 has me looking on Stubhub to see if ticket prices have dropped so I can go before the season's over. “

He might want to hurry. He soon may not have a choice. And playing games in front of no fans doesn't sound appealing for players, either.

"That would suck," Colorado Rockies outfielder David Dahl said. "Did that in Hartford one year. Played in New Hampshire in front of nobody. We didn’t have a home ballpark. Our home games were in New Hampshire and they only opened it to girlfriends and some scouts. It felt like a practice game on a backfield. You didn’t really hear anything. Just dead silent.

"Hopefully, it doesn’t come to that."


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