The NBA set off a domino effect when it was the first U.S. sports league to halt its season on March 11 because of the coronavirus pandemic. Now the league, along with the NHL, MLS, and MLB, is actively exploring a plan to return to play this summer.
But even if the NBA is able to return, it is unlikely fans will be allowed at the games. And even beyond this summer, L.A. Clippers owner Steve Ballmer, who just bought The Forum in March with plans to move the team there in 2024, thinks it will be a very long time before fans are in arenas.
“I can’t see anybody agreeing to reopen arenas or concert venues in the foreseeable future,” Ballmer told Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer on this week’s episode of “Influencers.” “So, I have to say that things will be fan-less, which, who knows what kind of experience that will be to watch on TV, and for the players.”
The NBA’s current return plan is to pick up in late July at Disney World in Orlando, Florida, which has appeal because of its size, hotel rooms, and current availability since the park is shut down to visitors. (Major League Soccer is also looking at playing there.) The NBA is ironing out the specific format for its return (like how many teams would be invited to compete; it will not be all 30), and needs the Board of Governors to approve the plan in a vote coming later this week. Ballmer confirmed, “If there’s going to be a reopening, it will be in the Disney World complex.”
But Ballmer, former CEO of Microsoft, also told Yahoo Finance that the ultimate decision of whether to come back will be up to the league—not the team owners. That’s a notion many might greet with some skepticism, since league commissioners work for the team owners.
“The league, on behalf of the owners, will make the final decision,” Ballmer said. “The owners will certainly give input and have a chance to vote, but it’s really our league office that’s figuring these things through. And some of that is with full transparency [for] owners, some of it can’t be, because it is complicated and needs to be done with some privacy.”
Daniel Roberts is an editor-at-large at Yahoo Finance and focuses on sports business. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.
Read more on how coronavirus is hitting the sports world:
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MLS Commissioner: Playing in empty stadiums would be particularly bad for us
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman: Money ‘is not what’s driving’ return plan
Korean baseball’s return is a bitter pill for American sports, but a win for ESPN
Coronavirus hits sports leagues: March Madness canceled; NBA, NHL, MLS seasons on hold