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The College Sports Spectacle

3 MINUTE READ | August 13, 2020

The College Sports Spectacle

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Abby Long

Abby is PMG’s senior managing editor, where she leads the company’s editorial program and manages the PMG Blog and Insights Hub. As a writer, editor, and marketing communications strategist with nearly a decade of experience, Abby's work in showcasing PMG’s unique expertise through POVs, research reports, and thought leadership regularly informs business strategy and media investments for some of the most iconic brands in the world. Named among the AAF Dallas 32 Under 32, her expertise in advertising, media strategy, and consumer trends has been featured in Ad Age, Business Insider, and Digiday.

Since the beginning of July, every media outlet from local TV stations to national publications has tirelessly reported on the challenges, concerns, and protocols drafted for returning to school. 

Online wishlists, normally filled with coloring books and crayons, are lined with PPE requests and cleaning supplies. In countless Twitter threads, teachers mark their frustration and concern with their district’s disproportionate funding and preparedness by posting images of single tubs of sanitizer and packets of wipes, capturing their year’s worth of PPE and cleaning supplies.

Similar to the sentiment surrounding public mask-wearing early on in the pandemic, opinions over the safety of school seemed to fall along partisan lines at the beginning of summer. But after a YMCA camp reported a coronavirus outbreak among young campers and other instances of community spread among school-age children, nearly three-quarters of Americans (73 percent) are concerned about schools in their community reopening too soon. 

As someone who lives two blocks away from a university campus, I can add color to the situation in that the growing concern over community spread hasn’t slowed the steady stream of parents moving kids into residence halls throughout this week ahead of in-person classes. Interestingly, in the Axios-Ipsos poll, nearly 68 percent of classes are reportedly virtual only, with 20 percent in-person, and 12 percent utilizing some hybrid learning model. The varying returns to school are likely to blame for a softer back to school shopping season, with just a third of parents buying new clothes or school supplies

Related: Supply chain challenges make many household staples increasingly hard to find

Of course, the spectacle surrounding the challenges of a safe return to school was only magnified this week with speculation surrounding the viability of college sports. In the end, nearly every college conference announced the 2020 season’s postponement. The Big Ten, Pac-12, the Ivy League, Mid-American Conference, and Mountain West Conference canceled or postponed their seasons, citing the unidentified long-term effects of COVID-19 as reason enough to delay play. As of now, the Big 12, ACC, and SEC are the only three major conferences with plans to return

A fall without college football seems imminent and would be a major blow to the entire sports-media ecosystem. Analysts estimate ESPN would lose upwards of $750 million in ad dollars if college football is outright canceled. This would just be another setback for Disney, an entertainment giant that has already significantly suffered as a result of the pandemic. (Just last week, Disney reported a net loss of $4.72 billion for the third quarter). 

The drama surrounding the return of college football exposes fresh concerns around the feasibility of playing sports outside a bubble environment as the NBA has done. But because college athletes are a part of larger campus communities, colleges can’t enter bubbles as easily as professional sports. 

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Major League Baseball continues its struggle on keeping players safe as the teams travel from city to city. But now, it’s rumored that the postseason will likely be held in a bubble to keep players safe and the season on schedule.

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