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Volume 26 No. 177
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SBJ Unpacks: Longtime Exec Harvey Schiller Details Sports' Road Ahead

In the past two weeks, UFC, NASCAR and golf have put on live events that offered a glimpse at a return to what we currently consider normalcy in the sports world, but is normalcy even possible in the aftermath of COVID-19? On the most recent “SBJ Unpacks -- Weathering COVID-19,” our Terry Lefton spoke with former SEC Commissioner, Turner Sports President and USOPC Exec Dir Harvey Schiller to discuss the future of sports during and after the pandemic.

On the challenge of pulling viewers back to sports after COVID-19
Schiller: I was looking at the numbers from the golf tournament that was on Sunday and the Darlington NASCAR race. There was a lot of excitement about the ratings and how high the number of viewers were, but I’m not sure I feel the same way. It’s going to be hard to get fans to return unless sports executives and marketers think out of the box on how to get people to return, whether it’s watching on television or going to the games. There were a little over six million viewers that watched Darlington, the NASCAR, and that’s one of the best ratings they’ve had in a long time. There were a little over 2 million that watched the (Taylormade) golf involving four golf stars. If you add that up, it's less than 10 million people watching two sporting events on a Sunday. However, there are over 300 million people that are stuck at home, and I’m wondering what they’re doing. There’s a real challenge to return people to watching sports. It’s not going to be as easy as people make it out to be.

On strategies college administrators are using to ensure they can get students on campus safely
Schiller: One of the things that administrators are talking about is starting school earlier. Instead of late September, starting it in August so they can keep the students on campus through Thanksgiving. They didn’t want them going home and then coming back to the campus and bringing the virus back. That plays very well into the requirements by NCAA that their students be taking classes during their participation, and that will be one of the clues as to how things go forward. As the major universities start doing it, others will follow. We’ll be in some kind of herd immunity at some point, and that will work.

On how the sports landscape will change when the pandemic ends
Schiller: Some of the less popular sports are going to not make it financially. … If you dropped some of these sports that have some popularity, they’ll create some kind of vacuum for something about that sport that will bring younger people in. People have to be smart enough to create different kinds of competitions. … The next part is some extension of the professional sports that we have. How can baseball, basketball or football create something else around them that can bring in additional revenue when they’re challenged without ticket taking or lack of sponsorships?