The Future of Football
Based on countless conversations with sports administrators and executives from across the country, we have gotten a general sense of how the return to football might play out.
First and foremost, return to play will be dictated by health mandates. We know that there will be pressure to start playing sports, especially football, throughout the summer, but regular lobbying will not be effective against health considerations. The health and safety of our children is top priority.
The decision made on when students will return to local schools will dictate the timing and manner that football/all sports will return. Nothing happens until kids are allowed to head back to school, for school, community and travel sports. (From some limited interactions we’ve had with superintendents and principals, schools are not focused on sports at all at the moment; they are trying to figure out how to conclude this year’s academic shutdown, and plan for multiple education contingencies next year. And by the way, their budgets are increasingly shot.)
Once school is back in session (as normal), schools and leagues will be considering a variety of options around return to sports. Most people think there will be a focus on starting slowly. Organizations, especially at the youth level, will want to keep everything local and operate a little differently, perhaps by placing more emphasis on practice than games. There will be major efforts to get kids on the field, even if spectators at games may need to come later.
Football has several factors in its favor: 1) Cost out-of-pocket per individual, in many cases, is smaller than other sports. A majority of equipment cost has already been absorbed by the school/league/team. 2) Football doesn’t cut/restrict players in most cases; if a kid wants to play a sport, football is available. This is even more important following months of enforced shelter in place, causing pent-up demand for physical activity. 3) Football is community. There is tons of energy and psycho-social momentum. The return to football is surrogate for some normalcy in many communities. 4) Football is local. The sport, in and of itself, does not rely on travel infrastructure, quite unlike other traditional sports, such as soccer, basketball and baseball.
Travel sports will come back much slower than community sports play. Far more issues arise when we consider the return to travel. For instance, cost. During continued economic hard times, fewer players will have the financial ability to participate. In addition, there will be ample complications of organizing and coordinating travel league schedules in such a short time frame this fall. Everyone will be eager to resume play… all at the same time.
Most importantly, the onus will be placed on ability of sports organizers (i.e. schools, clubs, coaches, other parent volunteers) to instill confidence in the parents that there is a strong, viable plan in place to protect the health of their children. Leagues’ and coaches’ credibility and ease with parent communications will be a critical factor.
Back to football specifically, our discussions with administrators and coaches around the country is that most people are preparing to play in the fall. They say, “We’re getting ready, so as soon as we can, we’re getting on the field.” And, “As of now, we’re full speed ahead for football in the fall, until the minute someone tells us for sure we’re not playing.” Leagues, organizations and communities are eager and ready, but wary of what fall conditions may bring.
A huge factor at the moment is the experience communities will have with initial “opening up” scenarios. If places like Georgia and Texas open up with minimal health/virus problems, that will inspire and pressure the rest of the country to resume play. If there are problems, and especially if the virus flares up in these locales, that will imply very bad news for fall sports.
A lot of football people are considering modifications to their normal schedule, such as starting pre-season much later and running their seasons later into November/December.
There is huge pressure for college and NFL football to figure out ways to play. And, given their resources, we suspect NFL will play games this fall. However, it is less clear for college; but if they can put kids back in dorms and open up, it’s likely that players will suit up, as well.