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NFL Given Best Odds to Be First League to Play In Front of Live Fans

Ryan Metivier

by Ryan Metivier in News

May 4, 2020 · 9:27 AM PDT

Titans' Nissan Stadium
Will empty stadiums become the norm in the NFL this season? Photo by Kelly Lacy from Pexels
  • Odds have been released on whether the NFL, MLB, NBA or NHL will be the first league to have live fans
  • The NFL schedule is set to drop this week and the league is said to be planning for business as usual
  • Read on for odds and predictions on which league could have a live paying audience first

The coronavirus has ground nearly every sport and league around the world to a screeching halt. While it’s nearly certain that should any sport return any time soon that it will be behind closed doors, we’re looking a little further down the road to the odds for the first major North American league to play in front of an actual live audience.

Odds Which League Will Play With Live Fans First

League Odds
NFL +120
MLB +160
NBA +450
NHL +450

Odds taken May 4. Must be played in front of paid ticket holders to be graded a winner

Deafening NFL Sunday crowds that cause chaos to the opposing offenses at the line of scrimmage could be absent this season as a solution to the coronavirus has yet to be found. However, odds say the NFL will be first to play with fans.

Whereas other leagues are still in constant flux as to how to finish/start play in the current climate of the virus, football has the benefit of being in the offseason. Their regular season doesn’t start until September. They still have plenty of time to see how things pan out over the next few months and plan for a safe return for not only players, but also possibly fans.

We’ve already seen Roger Goodell push ahead with the NFL Draft (with much success) and the league and owners will likely want to be the first to return to business are usual as soon as possible. However, it’s already been reported that this week’s schedule release will not include international games this season. Though some teams have already talked about plans for how fans could attend games.

Even if no fans are allowed in stadiums this summer or fall, the NFL also has the advantage of their season running all the way until the end of the year and into 2021 for the playoffs. So there’s nothing to say that even should the league start with empty stadiums, that it would still be the case in the latter stages of 2020.


All three of these leagues hold the advantage of possibly re-starting or beginning their seasons prior to the NFL. The NBA and NHL were nearing the late stages of their seasons, with the NHL even closer to the playoffs. Each of those leagues have even discussed going directly to the playoffs upon return.

While all three of these leagues will be slowly opening up team facilities for training with a return to play likely in mid-to-late summer, none of the proposed plans include a live audience right now.

Bubble cities/venues in Disney, Vegas, Arizona, Florida, North Dakota and others have all been tossed around as potential locations. There are some solid plans out there but all would require strict quarantines for players and team personnel. Plus, thousands of tests and plenty of logistical nightmares. Not the least being the risk of a player or team contracting the virus and what that would mean.

This is just to get things off the ground to complete a playoff or attempt to start the baseball season. Assuming it starts, the MLB season will at least run late into the year and has the advantage of being an outdoor sport, with large stadiums where fans could theoretically be spread out.

The NHL and NBA are still most concerned with wrapping up their seasons. Fans are the last things on their minds right now. MLB wants to get started and are still working out a potential season length and new division alignments.

Given this prop is open-ended and not listed as say “first with fans in 2020”, I think handicapping the best value may lie in looking a little further down the road into 2021.

Best Bet

One thing we know for sure with the coronavirus is that we don’t know a whole lot. It seems every time there is a bit of good news, more bad news quickly follows. Potential league re-starts keep getting pushed back and even the most optimistic of leagues, the NFL, have discussed pushing the season back, albeit not by much.

NHL and NBA plans are all devised for a short period to complete their current seasons. If that is in late summer, they likely won’t be ready to then start their following seasons on time in the fall. Furthermore, without a vaccine, players won’t agree to playing in “bubble cities” for an entire season. There is already push-back in doing so for two-to-three months this summer.

The NBA could even elect to not start their 2020-21 season until December or January, to not compete with the NFL season, an idea that has often been bandied about. The NHL’s television deal is also nowhere near as strong as some of the other leagues, so a return to play for a whole season without fans may just not be financially viable.

Let’s assume there is a potential for fan attendance later this fall. There is also the potential for a second wave of infections. Whether that be from relaxed physical distancing restrictions or colder weather hitting us with the flu and coronavirus at the same time. If either of those happens, all leagues will hesitate to let in fans. Further, TV revenue from some leagues may be enough for this year. While the atmosphere may suffer, the NFL could likely survive just fine in 2020 without gate revenue.

I think the best bet is Major League Baseball. With the thinking being hopefully we have a vaccine by early 2021 in time for a sport like baseball whose 2021 season could hopefully start next spring with fans allowed in attendance.

Pick: MLB +160


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