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ESPN Study: Fans Support Resuming Live Sports Without Spectators

An ESPN-commissioned survey of 1,004 sports fans found that not only would they watch games without spectators, but that they expect to consume more sports once the games return.

The study, conducted by ESPN Research & Insights, surveyed the 1,004 fans, aged 18 and over, between April 17-20, to investigate current perceptions around the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on sports moving forward.

The National Basketball Association, National Hockey League and Major League Baseball all suspended their regular seasons in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In recent weeks, several scenarios have sprung up to resume play -- including holding games in stadiums without spectators -- but no final decisions have been made.   

“Sports serve as an escape and provide joy in the current times, as evidenced by record-breaking audiences for The Last Dance and NFL Draft,” said SVP, ESPN Research & Insights Cary Meyers in a press release. “That deep need for sports was expressed by both avid and casual fans, with an eagerness for live sports to return in some way on TV even without fans in attendance.”

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Nearly twice as many fans (65%) would prefer to watch televised sporting events without crowds than those who believe sports should only restart when fans can experience the game in person (35%), the study claims. About 76% of those surveyed said they support the return of sports without fans in the stands if players were kept in hotels and their contact with others was closely monitored.

About 88% of avid sports fans said they can’t wait until live sports are back on television and plan to watch as much as they can. About 56% of all sports fans feel the same, according to the study. In addition, 67% said they see sports as a great way to feel normal again amid the pandemic, with avid sports fans feeling even more so (85%).

According to the study, 78% of avid fans and 53% of all fans expressed sorrow having no sports on the horizon, and 90% of avid sports fans said they miss watching live events on TV, while more than half (56%) of all sports fans say they miss it.

ESPN Research & Insights commissioned the nationwide survey with Global Strategy Group and plans to conduct additional studies over the next few months to monitor and track shifts in fan sentiment. For the purpose of this study, ESPN defined “avid sports fans” as anyone who characterizes themselves as an 8, 9, or 10 on a 0-10 sports fandom scale.