No one knows how long the coronavirus pandemic will last, but it should be obvious by now that — no matter when we’re told it’s safe to go back to our normal routines — real life might never be quite the same.
Following the Great Depression, an entire generation of Americans pinched their pennies and saved slivers of bar soap for decades … just in case.
Following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, enhanced security at airports and large public events became the norm and a greater degree of government intrusion into our lives has been accepted grudgingly.
The virus that has caused most businesses to suspend operations and prompted home confinement orders throughout the nation will not fade simply into memory once it is contained. The fear and caution that it has bred in all of us will change the way we live for a long time.
The same goes for the way we enjoy major spectator sports, which does not bode well for a swift rebound in attendance and revenue for the professional sports leagues that have had to suspend or delay their seasons. That even includes the NFL, which might be able to resume operations without missing a regular-season game.
Think about it. We’re still — at best — months away from a relaxation of national social-distancing requirements, which are becoming second nature to most of us as the scary COVID-19 statistics play across our television screens 24 hours a day.
The true scope of the pandemic remains a matter of dire speculation and medical experts project that even if it subsides this summer, it might re-emerge next winter if an effective vaccine has not been developed and mass produced by then.
Though it’s likely that the country will go back to work well before that, it remains to be seen just how comfortable sports fans will feel about going back to stadiums, arenas and ballparks while there is any possibility of catching the virus.
Don’t know about you, but I’m having a hard time imagining a bare-handed stadium vendor dressing up a hot dog for me at my seat. Precautions will be taken, of course, but after you’ve spent months swabbing your doorstep-delivered groceries with disinfectant wipes, busy concession stands and open-air snacks are going to be a tough sell for quite a while.
It was said that after the disastrous Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-19, fans flocked back to professional baseball in surprising numbers even as the major leagues braced for a dramatic downturn in attendance. There is no doubt that there will be a pent-up hunger to watch games again when our favorite athletes return to action regardless of the sport, but we live in a much different world now and no one has to go to a stadium or arena to enjoy the show.
The affordability of massive flat-screen televisions and the fact that virtually every game played by every major sports team can be watched at home was having an effect on in-house attendance well before the pandemic.
The Baltimore Orioles already were in the midst of a severe attendance decline because of several other factors, most recently a competitive downturn that has made them the losingest team in baseball over the past two seasons. This is not going to help.
For many of us, there is no substitute for being there in person and a trip to the ballpark will be an attractive proposition after months of being cooped up at home switching between CNN and whatever’s left on Netflix by then. But the pandemic is going to leave a huge scar on our collective psyche that will make a lot of people hesitant to be a mask-less face in the crowd.
Can’t blame anyone for that. This has already been a life-changing event and, sadly, it’s far from over. The loss of life is beyond tragic and far outweighs any concern about how and when we will again be able to enjoy our favorite diversions.
Still, it is the prospect of that eventual return to normalcy that will help us get through the difficult months ahead, even if it takes much longer than that for fans to feel comfortable in their seats.