Could professional sports teams resume play in Illinois without fans under the state's reopening plan?
Possibly, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Thursday.
"Many of the leagues and teams - and I have spoken with many of them - are considering opening their seasons or continuing their seasons without fans in the stands so that people can enjoy the sports online on TV," Pritzker said.
Pritzker said it's up to a team to submit plans for how they would manage restrictions while playing.
"We have some terrific sports fans all across the state of Illinois that want to see this up and running and so there's a desire to have it work," Pritzker said. "I think they've got to come up with a set of plans... I think they're incentivized, by the way, the leagues are, to do the right thing. Partly they're incentivized because they have players that are worth millions of dollars to them that are going to be on the field. So you know, I think they want to protect their, for lack of better term, assets and their people."
No teams have submitted such plans so far, but Pritzker said he's "looking forward to seeing them."
"I want to get sports up and going. I think people need this as an outlet," Pritzker said. "No, it won't be in person, at least not in the next month or two. But I think it's very important for everybody's psyche."
The major sports leagues — the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball and National Hockey League — have put games on hold indefinitely.
“Our revenue in essence has dropped to zero,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said on a conference call last month. “That’s having a huge financial impact on the team business and the arena business.”
The NFL is set to release its full schedule for the 2020 season Thursday night, the league announced.
The schedule will be different than in years past due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The league also announced that it will not play any of its games abroad this season, with games in London and Mexico City taken off the books as a result.
But as far as when fans could return to Soldier Field, Pritzker said it will depend on nationwide conditions.
"We want to make sure that everybody's safe," he said. "So all across the country, if the nation isn't in a state where we can have tens of thousands of people together in a stadium, then I don't think you're going to see football opening up to have fans in the stands."
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot expressed optimism last month that baseball could return in some fashion soon.
“We've had ongoing conversations about what (opening the season) might look like,” she said. “We're obviously a ways away from that, because we haven't seen the level of cases decline on a consistent basis. We're still seeing them rise. But can I envision a world where a baseball might return to Chicago this summer? Yes. Is it likely to be without fans? Probably.”
But the return of baseball will depend on several factors, White Sox Vice President of Communications Scott Reifert explained, including safety of players, staff and fans; flattening the coronavirus curve; direction from Major League Baseball; and input from the authorities.
"Right now, we simply don't know when all of these factors will come together to allow a return to the field," Reifert said in a statement at the time. "We appreciate everyone's patience and understanding given all of the unknowns."
Julian Green, vice president of communications for the Cubs, said until the team receives guidance from the MLB, they are unable to tell when the team will return to the field.
"As the Governor stated, we are looking to the MLB for guidance as to when the season can resume, which will likely include input from health experts that creates the safest environment for players and their families, employees and fans," Green said in a statement.
Illinois is nearing a seventh week under a stay-at-home order, though some regions could begin entering a third phase of reopening by the end of the month under a plan unveiled by Pritzker this week.
The next, or third, phase will allow manufacturing, offices, retail, barbershops and salons to reopen to the public "with capacity and other limits and safety precautions." Gatherings of 10 people or fewer will also be allowed.
It remains unclear which regions will be among the first to enter that phase, however, and no dates were given for future phases in the state. (Read more on the plan here.)
Phase four won't begin until a region sees continued declines in infection rates and hospital occupancy.
Not until phase four will all gatherings of up to 50 people be allowed. Under this phase, restaurants and bars can reopen, travel will resume, child care and schools can return under guidance from the IDPH.
Phase five, the final reopening stage, which allows large gatherings, festivals and conventions to resume, will only begin once a vaccine or highly-effective treatment is available.
On Wednesday alone, Illinois reported 136 deaths and 2,270 new confirmed cases.
That lifted the state's death toll from the virus near 3,000 with 68,232 total cases. Of the total cases in Illinois, 4,832 individuals remained hospitalized, with 1,231 in intensive care and 780 on ventilators.
"We have to figure out how to live with COVID-19 until it can be vanquished – and to do so in a way that best supports our residents’ health and our healthcare systems, and saves the most lives," Pritzker said Tuesday.
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