How Much Money Did COVID-19 Cost Each Professional Sports League?

The sports world (and let's be honest — the whole world) was turned upside-down when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020. What impact did that have on sports revenue? We take a look at how much the Coronavirus pandemic cost major professional sports leagues.

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A year has passed since the coronavirus pandemic triggered the suspension of sporting leagues around the world. Baseball was swiftly stopped and the MLB season reduced, European soccer leagues went into hibernation, and the Olympics were set back a year.

In the US it is estimated the combined cost of COVID-19 on the five major sporting leagues hit over $12bn. Football, baseball, basketball, hockey and soccer leagues were able to finish their seasons but with differing paths to the playoffs.

How Much Did COVID-19 Cost Sports Industry Overall?

Not only did the pandemic have an impact on professional leagues themselves, but its impact was felt beyond, extending to media and tourism.

When it comes to college sports, there was a projected potential loss of $17million USD with the lost of 2020’s March Madness, and a potential loss of $867.5million USD in TV & marketing rights for March Madness.

bar graph of lost sports revenue die to covid-19 pandemic may 2020

 

 

 

 

Where else did this have economic impact? In May 2020, $2.35 billion USD was lost in revenue from fan spending on sports, $2.4 billion USD was lost in revenue from to tourism relating to youth sports, $2.2 billion USD was lost in National TV revenue, and $0.37 billion was lost in stadium & arena employee revenue.

Here, we look at the financial cost of Covid-19 on America’s major sporting leagues:

NFL: $4BN

It might seem like a huge amount of money but the $4bn estimated revenues the NFL lost during the coronavirus pandemic could have been even worse. Teams are thought to have lost over $100m each during the 2020 season, which was played in part without any fans.

But the NFL, while not immune to financial earthquakes such as these, can ride the tremors out better than any other sport. Of course, when a franchise is denied over $100m in revenue that’s got to be felt somewhere, and there are reports the players could be the ones who take the biggest hit.

bar graph nfl revenue loss if games are played without fans may 2020

Naturally teams who attract fans to their games missed out the most. The Dallas Cowboys earned $621m from game-day revenue in 2018 (their most recent figures) but couldn’t play at capacity during the pandemic. But, as one consultant told CBS: “Nobody is going to cry for teams that are worth an average of $2bn.”

NBA: $694M

When Covid forced the shutdown of the NBA season just as the playoffs were on the horizon there were worries the entire campaign would be cancelled. But the NBA worked diligently to find a solution and came up with the Disney bubble, where teams played their remaining games and the playoffs in Orlando.

The move was initially laughed at by some fans and cost the NBA $180m to stage for 100 days. But the investment avoided losses of $1.5bn as TV broadcasters, sponsors and supporters all got their slice of the pie.

potenitial nba revenue lost from covid-19

According to The Athletic, the NBA lost $694m from the pandemic in 2020. This drop was largely due to fans being unable to attend games. While many sports leagues earn most of their income from broadcasting fees, the NBA takes in 40% of its income from gate receipts alone. It is understood that the LA Lakers lost the most amount of revenue during the shutdown ($52.7m) and even the Grizzlies – who were least affected by the measures to fight the disease – were still $10.4m out of pocket.

MLB: $3BN

One league less protected against coronavirus has been Major League Baseball, with claims that the league will come under serious financial strain if fans are shut out again during the 2021 season. It is estimated MLB clubs suffered losses up to $3bn during 2020.

The big issue for baseball was that the league started right at the beginning of the pandemic. Regular league seasons were cut from 162 games to just 60 and fans were shut out. Eventually the playoffs began but there was a subdued atmosphere throughout each game.

bar graph with potential mlb revenue loss from covid-19

While total revenues in 2020 earned the MLB around $3bn, costs and expenses reached $6.1bn, hence the loss on the year. However, there is room for optimism heading into future seasons. For a start, the MLB was projecting a revenue increase to $10bn in 2020 had the coronavirus pandemic not struck, while owners have enjoyed surpluses for the past 17 years. What’s one year out of 17 when you’re a billionaire owner?

NHL: $3.5BN

The NHL arguably avoided the worst of the coronavirus lockdown as the disease spread across North America while the sport was largely in its off-season. But that hasn’t stopped the league projecting losses of as much as $3.5bn unless fans can return to games fast.

bar graph of nhl hockey revenue loss from covid 19

The 2020/21 NHL season has been shortened to 72 games and were fans unable to attend then revenues would have fallen 40%. The good news is the NHL is starting to welcome back fans. The bad news is games across the country are unlikely to be at full capacity until next season.

MLS: $1BN

Soccer in America wasn’t slow to react to the coronavirus lockdown. But while many leagues in Europe and Asia got back up and running over the summer, for the MLS there were major restructuring efforts implemented to cope with the impact of the virus.

The league had cut its workforce by 20 per cent by the end of 2020 as the MLS is Back Tournament failed to cover the financial impact of the league’s suspension between March and July that year. MLS commissioner Don Garber confirmed the $1bn losses were “deeper than what we expected” and warned that no league can survive another shutdown like it did last year.

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