DraftKings study found sports fans divided about when to return to live games, have social distancing concerns

Dr. Fauci set to throw out first pitch of season on Opening Day

Dr. Anthony Fauci will throw out the first pitch on Opening Day at the Washington Nationals and New York Yankees game; Lucas Tomlinson reports.

Professional sports officials have been looking at how to resume hosting fans in stadiums and arenas in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic — but fans have mixed feelings about whether they even want to begin coming back to the stands, according to a new study.

More than half, 56 percent, of sports fans reported missing sports a lot during the COVID-19 shutdowns — but only 43 percent said they felt comfortable attending a live sporting event within six months of the outbreak, according to DraftKings, which conducted the polling.

The survey found that 24 percent of fans would be comfortable attending a sporting event in person four to six months post-coronavirus. Another 20 percent said they wouldn’t feel comfortable until there’s a cure. And 19 perfect would have gone back in just three months or less.

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Going back within seven to nine months appealed to 16 percent. Only 12 percent were interested in returning to the stands between 10 months and a year after COVID-19. And 10 percent said they’d wait longer than a year, according to DraftKings' findings.

So with the results all over the place, attendance could remain unpredictable until the leagues finally do invite fans back to their stadiums. And when they do — most fans, 59 percent, reported having serious concerns about being able to maintain social distancing. Another 55 percent were worried about their fellow fans ignoring social distancing guidelines.

And 78 percent of respondents said they'd be comfortable sacrificing traditional aspects of the live sports experience — including tailgating and concession stands — in order to have their favorite sports resume sooner.

TRUMP, MARIANO RIVERA MARK OPENING DAY AT WHITE HOUSE

Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci, center, walks through empty stands after throwing out the ceremonial first pitch at Nationals Park before the New York Yankees and the Washington Nationals play an opening day baseball game, Thursday, July 23, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The MLB didn’t host any fans when this year’s delayed, coronavirus-shortened season finally kicked off Thursday with the Washington Nationals hosting the New York Yankees – and Dr. Anthony Fauci throwing out the first pitch.

“I think Major League Baseball is setting an example by playing to empty stadiums. And so are other sports,” President Trump said at the White House Thursday during an event to mark the return of baseball alongside Hall of Fame former Yankees closer Mariano Rivera. “We want to get back to normal. The key is to get back to normal.”

The NHL is also going to keep fans out of the stands when it resumes its interrupted season with a 24-team playoff scheduled to begin in Toronto and Edmonton next month.

And the NBA, which DraftKings found to be the sport that fans most anticipated returning, has sequestered its players in a so-called bubble and doesn’t plan to have fans in attendance for the rest of its interrupted season.

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But NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy announced Wednesday that football fans will be required to wear facial coverings if they attend any games in person this season.

That’s with at least two teams — the New York Jets and Giants – having said they won’t have anyone in attendance “until further notice.” And the Atlanta Falcons announced they’d encourage social distancing by only allowing in a fraction of their Mercedes-Benz Stadium’s normal capacity crowd.

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DraftKings unveiled its findings earlier this month after polling more than 1,000 sports fans.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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