Is the future of spectator sports online?

Watching a sports game on a phone - Tifosi Sport

Is the future of spectator sports online?

New Zealand recently became the first country to declare that transmission of the coronavirus had been eliminated domestically, leading to the lifting of social distancing restrictions. Especially happy about the announcement were the country’s loyal rugby fans, who packed the Forsyth Barr Stadium for the opening of the Super Rugby Aotearoa tournament. The new tournament was devised as an alternative to the traditional Super Rugby tournament – featuring teams from Japan, Argentina, Australia and South Africa – and sees the five Kiwi teams go head to head in eight matches.

While certain live sporting events have gone on in Europe despite the threat of the coronavirus, and South Korea has been left red-faced after a rather unorthodox crowd at a recent football game in Seoul, the assumption is that live sporting events look to remain off-limits to spectators for as long as Covid-19 is around.

As an alternative to broadcasting live games, a number of sports leagues have started taking advantage of online games. For example, at the end of May, NASCAR first broadcast a race using the iRacing platform and actual NASCAR drivers. The NBA in the US similarly used games to fill time slots, as did the top La Liga soccer teams. Even chess grandmasters have taken their games to the online sphere – where they are proving incredibly popular.

The world continues to grapple with a virus that has social interaction at the heart of its spread, and makes adjustments accordingly. As such, many professional sports teams are now returning to their training routines, with hopes that matches may also resume soon.

In the mean time, the English Premier League returned on 17 June, following 100 days of lockdown, with Manchester City demolishing Arsenal in the first of 92 games in less than three weeks. While the television broadcasts of these games should have fans excited, no spectators are allowed in stadiums just yet. It seems sports fans will have to be satisfied with sitting on the sidelines for a little while longer.

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