Among the many changes that the NBA was forced to make in the wake of COVID-19 was finishing the 2019-20 season without fans in the arena. Safety has been the focus in the Orlando bubble, but eventually, league economics are going to force the NBA to figure out how to get fans back in the building. Recent estimates have suggested that approximately 40 percent of NBA revenue comes from fans attending games in person, so figuring out a way for them to do so next season will be a priority.
Will that be possible next season? Adam Silver is optimistic. "With appropriate protocols in terms of distancing, and advanced testing, you will be able to bring fans back into arenas," the commissioner said at his press conference before Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
Silver was not absolutely certain, however. He spoke of the importance of rapid testing that does not require a lab, but the league is working with scientists to potentially help create the infrastructure needed to get fans in the building. How many? That is less clear. The commissioner acknowledged that, without a widely available vaccine, there is simply no way that arenas will be filled to capacity next season. Most scientists expect a vaccine to be ready for wide distribution at some point in 2021.
Silver acknowledged that the league's goal is still to start in December or January, though would not commit to a firm timeline. If a vaccine is not available until the middle of the year, it becomes more important than ever that the league finds the proper protocols to allow fans to safely attend games. Certain NFL teams have already managed to do so, and the later rounds of the baseball playoffs will include a limited number of fans as well. Those sports are played outdoors. The NBA is monitoring their progress, but ultimately, it is dealing with a different set of issues. We are still a long way from knowing when fans will be able to return to NBA games.