Sports industry Tulane alumni discuss ‘new normal’ of professional sports

Bella Baff, Sports Editor

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With Major League Baseball having begun its 2020 season less than a week ago and already embroiled in controversy, and the National Basketball Association set to resume its season on July 30, the fate of professional sports is uncertain. Fans, teams and corporate sponsors alike nervously eye these initial plunges, eager to determine if leagues will have full seasons and if players will follow COVID-19 guidelines. 

NBA and MLB players will compete in empty arenas without fans due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Given the air of skepticism that pervades conversations about sports right now, Tulane’s July 28 online webinar “Return of Professional Sports: The New Sports Normal” was a valuable insight into how various professional sports leagues have responded to the pandemic. Composed of five Tulane alumni panelists who have made their mark on athletic industries as diverse as sports law and sports tournament startups, the hour-long event was co-hosted by Dr. Greg Stewart, a professor of sports medicine at Tulane, and Gabe Feldman, director of Tulane’s sports law program.

While the panelists acknowledged the negative repercussions that COVID-19 has had on their respective sports, the opportunity for silver linings was a major theme of the discussion. Colie Edison, CEO of the Professional Bowlers Association and a 2006 Tulane graduate, said that the PBA was able to secure two made-for-TV events on Fox Sports during prime time earlier this season, a slot the league would be unlikely to have obtained if other sports were airing as usual. Similarly, Tulane Sports Law graduate Jennifer Goldstein, who represents Ultimate Fighting Championship players, noted that the UFC has broadened its audience and gained traction as a legitimate major sport thanks to its success in being one of the first leagues to undertake resuming its season.

Another central topic throughout the webinar was that of “sports bubbles”. Dan Friel, a 2004 Tulane Law graduate and Co-Founder of The Basketball Tournament, a winner-takes-all single-elimination basketball tournament, explained that maintaining a tournament-wide bubble was essential to ensuring his players’ health this season. Earlier this summer, competing teams were required to pack their bags before every game, and the eliminated team had to leave the bubble immediately following competition.. 

Finally, the panelists reflected on how the pandemic has forced them to think differently in their respective roles, emphasizing the importance of engaging creatively with their communities. Shelly Cayette, senior vice president of global partnerships for the Cleveland Cavaliers, has found creative ways to communicate with partners, including virtual wine tastings and personalized mask deliveries. Additionally, the former Green Wave women’s basketball player has hosted cornhole tournaments in clinics in downtown Cleveland to raise the city’s spirit. Eric Beverly, director of operations at the Center for Sport of Tulane’s School of Medicine, similarly has opted to creatively engage with the populations he serves via virtual education and mental health initiatives. Beverly, who played as a tight end for Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons, is not optimistic about the prospect of a full-length NFL season.

So while the “Return of Professional Sports: The New Sports Normal” panel may not have exactly quelled attendee’s concerns about the fate of their favorite teams, it did demonstrate that even while professional sports were absent from our screens, industry leaders were courageously adapting to an ever-changing sports world. Like our beloved leagues and sports leaders, we fans must prove resilient as we brace for what the future of sports will look like.