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Fauci says US sports could return without fans while Universal Japan extends closure

Dr. Anthony Fauci outlines a model for a return of US sports without fans, Universal Studios Japan remains closed and Eventbrite hints at a return to self-serving ticketing model. Here are some impacts of COVID-19 from across the industry…

US sports

Sports could only return in the US this year without fans in the stands, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and senior advisor to President Donald Trump.

Fauci, who has been the face of the US’s fight against COVID-19, told Snapchat’s Peter Hamby on YouTube that professional sports would only be able to return this summer with no attendees and by keeping players in hotels.

He said: “There’s a way of doing that. Nobody comes to the stadium. Put [the players] in big hotels, wherever you want to play, keep them very well surveilled. Have them tested every single week and make sure they don’t wind up infecting each other or their family, and just let them play the season out.”

Major League Baseball (MLB) has been considering plans that could allow them to start the season in a single location, likely Arizona, with no fans attending, while the NBA basketball league has had a similar idea to play the league out in Las Vegas. It has also been suggested a camp-style system could be introduced to help the English Premier League be completed.

The MLB season had been due to start on March 26 but this has been pushed back until mid-May at the earliest due to COVID-19. The NBA suspended its season indefinitely last month after a Utah Jazz player contracted COVID-19. The league still needs to hold its remaining regular-season games and end-of-season play-offs.

Fauci said he believes there would be enough interest, specifically in a short baseball season and the beginning of the NFL American football league, from fans to watch the games remotely.

The NFL has already moved its draft to a virtual format and is maintaining a firm stance on starting the scheduled 2020-21 season in September.

Universal Japan

Universal Studios Japan and the two parks that make up Tokyo Disney Resort will remain closed through to May following a recent extension.

The parks have been closed since February 20 and had originally been scheduled to reopen at various dates throughout April.

USJ, which had originally planned to reopen on April 12, extended its closure until mid-May following the government’s COVID-19 state of emergency declaration on April 7.

The park has assured fans that all tickets purchased in April and May are fully refundable.

The attendance at the Universal Studios Japan theme park in Osaka amounted to approximately 14.3 million in 2018, a decrease of around 4.3 percent from the previous year. Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea welcomed a combined 15.74 million visitors in 2019.

Fan attention

Dr Michael Naylor, a senior lecturer and researcher in sport leadership and management at the Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand, said “only the most innovative, data-driven” sports organisations will succeed in filling stadia after the COVID-19 shutdown lifts.

He said a “ferocious battle for fan attention” would be waged around the world after the global sports blackout due to the pandemic.

Naylor added, according to RNZ: “Only the most innovative, data-driven approaches will work and those that go back to business as usual will be left with empty stadia, poor TV ratings and little revenue.”

He noted that it would be “ultra competitive” to market for the attention of sports fans, and urged organisations to consider immediately implementing revised ticket packages in order to thrive.

“Franchises ought to be looking very carefully at their fanbases, considering embedded segments of those for whom buying tickets is no longer realistic due to job loss and those that have weathered the lockdown, kept a job and may be chomping at the bit to get back to watching live sport,” Naylor said.

UK theatres

A new survey by the Society of London Theatres (SOLT) and UK Theatre found that 77% of venues and 67% of producers will need more financial support from the government than what is already being offered as theatres remain closed until the end of May.

The survey, which was completed by more than 164 theatres and producers across the UK, revealed that 92% of respondents are not eligible for the COVID Corporate Financing Facility offered by the Bank of England, and 87% claim they will not be accessing the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme.

Meanwhile, 23% of producers/producing theatres said they will begin having cashflow issues this month with nearly a fifth (17%) of theatres also expecting cashflow issues in April.

Around 65% of theatres said they will be taking advantage of the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, compared with 40% of producers/producing theatres.

The chief executive of Leicester’s Curve Theatre Chris Stafford has called the scheme a “lifeline,” according to London Theatre Direct.


Eventbrite president and co-founder Julia Hartz told Billboard it has no plans to exit the music sector, but hinted at a return to a self-service ticketing product.

Hartz said: “We are not planning to exit music and we’re committed to serving independent creators.

“Eventbrite has always had a self-service ethos. We’re taking this time of dislocation to double down on making our platform better.”

Earlier this month, Eventbrite announced it would lay off 45 per cent of its global workforce as part of plans to save at least $100m in annualised expenditure.

In a statement, the San Francisco-based company outlined a series of cost-cutting measures, including a reduction in remuneration for chief executive Julia Hartz and other senior figures, as it seeks to weather the impact of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Image: Arturo Pardavila III

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