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Poll: Most Fans Don't Want Sports Played Indoors While Pandemic Surges


This pandemic has changed the way we live our lives. We all know that. And this includes how we watch and play sports. There are team bubbles, empty stadiums, fake crowd noise. So how do people feel about all of this? Well, a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll just released this morning reveals some surprising findings. It looked specifically at indoor sports.

And we have Jane McManus here to talk about the results. She's director of Marist's Center for Sports Communication, also writes for the online sports news publication Deadspin. Jane, good morning.

JANE MCMANUS: Hi. How are you?

GREENE: So one of the big findings - I'm good. Thanks for doing this. As a sports fan, I'm really curious. What are the findings that really stood out to you here?

MCMANUS: There were - what really stood out to me and the big takeaway from it was that people who identify as sports fans are not able to put aside the pandemic when they're watching sports. Fifty-six percent say people should not be participating in indoor team sports. Another 56 percent said they're concerned that playing indoor team sports locally could spread the virus in their community. Fifty-eight percent said that government officials should be able to put restrictions on play.

These are the kinds of things that I think indicate that people aren't seeing this as business as usual and not the normal kind of year. And they also say that people shouldn't be watching those sports in person in the same way. I was surprised to see that 49% of sports fans said there should be no fans at the Super Bowl. And 34% said they should be allowed, but only with restrictions. I think what we're seeing is that fans want leagues to not pretend that this is a normal season and to make the adjustments necessary if they're going to play in a pandemic.

GREENE: So notable - I mean, the Super Bowl is an event that, presumably, would be outdoors. And half the people you polled are saying there should definitely be no fans there at all. But I mean, I'm thinking about leagues that are all indoors, like the NBA, like the NHL. I mean, they're planning to open their new seasons as early as this month, right? I mean, what does this mean for them if large numbers of people in this country are just really concerned and want them to take action?

MCMANUS: Well, I think what it means is that leagues are not necessarily paying attention to what fans want when they're making decisions about whether to start up and how. I think what they're doing is they're making decisions based on economic reasons. I mean, it seems clear that people are concerned about playing in sports. And even they're trying to balance, in some ways, the idea that individuals would get something - right? - out of participating in sports as opposed to something like the Super Bowl, which is pure spectacle in a lot of ways. And where you have - you know, for the entertainment value, I think people are saying, you know, we don't necessarily need to see fans at an event like that, whereas with something like, you know, college basketball, for example, you're seeing that there is maybe a benefit to playing, but perhaps there - that - still that concern there about what it could mean for - in terms of community spread.

You do have leagues like the NBA and the WNBA that were able to successfully have seasons in a bubble. But now you look ahead, and the NBA is considering its next season without a bubble and getting prepared for that. So, I mean, it is really curious to me, but I do think leagues are operating, in a sense, looking at the financials of it, not necessarily at what the fans would like to see.

GREENE: Obviously because there is big money at stake. Just in a few seconds - the poll did look at college sports as well.

MCMANUS: Yeah, we sure did. And what was interesting to me - 31% of people said that there shouldn't be college football right now, that that shouldn't be allowed. But, of course, as we know, there have been a lot of outbreaks in college football because it is going on as usual.

GREENE: Indeed. Jane McManus is the director of Marist's Center for Sports Communication, talking to us about this really new interesting poll that's out. Thanks so much for your time.

MCMANUS: Oh, happy to do it.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOBY TRANTER'S "STOLE MY CROWN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.