In March 2020, basketball fans received the bad news: the NBA suspended the season after Rudy Gobert tested positive for coronavirus. Due to the uncertainties of the novel virus, the 2019-20 season was suspended until further notice. The hiatus was used for forming a strategy that would move the games forward in correlation with the development of this pandemic.
Naturally, this also affected the betting industry. With no NBA games to feature, bookies had to turn to alternative offers, such as eSports and fantasy sports. But nothing could replace the thrill and interest among fans for real basketball games. Fortunately, we didn’t have to wait too long before the season was resumed. For its 2020-21 season, the NBA is expected to return to a normal schedule.
How Did the Coronavirus Affect Basketball Games?
The NBA developed the so-called bubble model after resuming the 2019-20 season. The teams were allowed to play in their home markets, but strict safety protocols were introduced. These are only a few of them:
- All players are required to wear facemasks as soon as they step out of their vehicles, except during practices and workouts. All members of the training staff are required to wear facemasks even during practices.
- A Tier 1 group of 45 participants is required from each team to form. The players and training staff in this group are forbidden from accessing any business operation areas. Personal interaction with individuals from the Tier 3 group (such as facility administrators) was forbidden as well.
- Once a player tests positive for coronavirus, the team has to follow a protocol that requires informing public health authorities and implementing a strict contact tracing procedure.
- After testing positive, a player has to pass a series of physical examinations before resuming training and games. Cardiovascular screening is especially important after the recovery.
With these safety measures in place, the NBA management aims to keep the virus away from the teams. A few isolated cases will not shut down the 2020-21 season, but things could change anytime. From what we know so far, the new season (scheduled to begin on December 22, 2020) will be reduced to 72 games. All teams will have to keep following the strict protocol.
How Was the Basketball Betting Industry Affected by the Coronavirus?
2020 was a big year for the sports betting industry. Several U.S. states finally legalized it within their territories. Legal online gambling in Colorado made its entrance in May 2020. That was in the middle of the NBA suspension. Clearly, that had a negative effect on the industry. The bookies had to funnel bettors towards the few games that kept going, but the major team sports were not part of their offer.
But something interesting happened as soon as basketball games were back on the schedule: the interest in online sports betting grew exponentially. People were stuck in their homes, with no opportunities for socializing. They could hardly wait for the games, and more of them started spicing up the action with online bets.
One of the advantages of this industry is that it’s still very young. The major stakeholders in the USA just made their investment, so they have a lot of time to recover from the losses in the long term. The material impact was not as serious as the one that the casino industry suffered.
That being said, the coronavirus could have a permanent effect on basketball and all activities related to it (betting included). For now, the season has been reduced to a minimal number of games. If the situation with COVID-19 gets more serious, the NBA will consider shortening the 2020-21 season to a greater extent. The 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo have already been scheduled, but the uncertainty around basketball games during that event continues.
While the world is still struggling with the pandemic, we don’t know what the final effects on sports will be. Currently, the betting industry is doing fine. There have been some losses, but online betting saves the situation. As long as the games continue, fans can place their bets online.