Coronavirus: Falcons owner Arthur Blank explains why he believes NFL will return in the fall

The COVID-19 pandemic has flipped the entire world on its head and the sports universe is no exception. All major North American sports that were in-season were put on hiatus as the coronavirus spread through the continent including the NBA, NHL and the MLB. The future is rather unclear when those leagues will be able to resume play and it’s looking more certain that whenever they do get back it’ll be without fans (or at best with limited spectators). 

Because of the time of year this pandemic hit, the NFL hasn’t felt as big of an impact as the other four major North American sports, but they haven’t gone completely unscathed. While free agency and the draft are in full swing, teams have not been permitted to have contact with players and the facilities are closed. The 2020 NFL Draft, meanwhile, will take place virtually next week. 

As sports continue to be on pause, there are growing questions as to whether or not this hiatus could spill into parts of the calendar when football starts being played. During an appearance on the NFL Network on Friday, Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank offered up his opinion (and a rare bit of positive/optimistic news) that NFL games will occur in the fall. The caveat, however, is that it may occur without fans in the stands. 

“I think that we will. That’s my personal view,” Blank said on NFL Total Access, via “I’m not a physician, I’m not a scientist and what have you, but I read and follow everything else. I know that it’s important, I think regardless of the sport — the sport’s important for lots of people for lots of reasons, not just the economics of it but to bring people together in a sense of community, sense of togetherness, et cetera, and a sense of purpose that they can join in together with. So I think there will be football. Whether or not all the games will be played with fans in the stands, I’m not sure. I know the league would certainly prefer to do that, so will virtually every other sport throughout the world. Whether or not that will be possible and provide a safe environment for our fans and our players and coaches and staff, et cetera, is still a question mark.”

Blank pointed out that the NFL — like most sports these days — is largely absorbed on television and could still work without folks in the stands, despite that not being the top option for NFL figures and fans alike. The biggest thing that could lead fans back into stadiums and resume what is looked to be a new normal, Blank says, is testing.

“There certainly has to be a lot more testing, in my view, than where we are today in terms of capability,” he says. “The concern the fans have about their own safety, we have to be able to relieve that, and to create a safe environment for them. I think there’s ways to do that. We’re not at that point now but I think that’s where we’re headed. Whether we’ll get there for the first game of the year, I don’t know, but I think the league would like to do that, certainly.”

The 2020 regular season schedule is expected to be released by May 9. The league will operate based on a full season, but there will reportedly be contingencies and will make adjustments if necessary.  

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