Coronavirus in Oklahoma: Why sports world will keep an eye on Guthrie and PBR event
The NFL Draft has been a welcome return to sports.
Even though it’s being done virtually with video feeds spliced together from across the country, the draft has drama and intrigue and consequences. We haven’t had anything like that in our sports world for more than a month.
But it isn’t really sports.
It isn’t a game. Or a match. Or a true competition.
- Related to this story
- Article: PBR will buck for TV with no fans at Lazy E Arena
The sports world will get that this weekend in, of all places, Logan County, Oklahoma.
It seems a little crazy, but the first-known pro-level competition to bring together out-of-state competitors since the coronavirus pandemic shuttered sports in the United States is happening near Guthrie. The Professional Bull Riders are doing TV-only, closed-to-the-public events Saturday and Sunday at Lazy E Arena and Ranch.
Even though horse racing has been happening in some locales during the shutdown, most of the folks involved are local. This PBR event is bringing in riders from far and wide. It is a step up in complexity from those horse races.
Strange that Oklahoma became the epicenter of the coronavirus shutdown when Utah big man Rudy Gobert tested positive and the Thunder’s game against the Jazz was stopped moments before tip, and now, we’re the place sports returns.
(And no, the WWE doesn’t count.)
Here’s the thing -- what happens this weekend in rural Oklahoma will give us an idea how far off the return of the wider world of sports might be. Either way, it will be a barometer. It might be a blueprint, or it might be a cautionary tale.
The PBR has an intriguing set up. Everyone involved with the event must be screened, checked and cleared medically to enter the grounds. Then, they will live in RVs and remain on site throughout the competition. Food will be brought in. Same for any necessities.
No one leaves.
That includes the bull riders. Ditto for stock contractors, medical staff, TV crews and PBR staff. All told, the PBR estimates there will be about 140 people, but with hundreds of acres at Lazy E, everyone will have about 2 acres of space.
Perfect for social distancing.
They won’t be able to stay that far apart, of course, but the PBR has established working groups. Each is less than 10 people, and none will have contact with other groups. That means if someone starts showing symptoms of COVID-19, the spread should be minimized.
In theory, anyway.
The truth is, we don’t know how this will work. Maybe no one will get sick, and everything will go off without a hitch. Or maybe someone will get sick, but the system will work and limit the spread. Or maybe someone will get sick, nothing will stop the spread, there will be an outbreak and we’ll all be wondering why the h-e-double-hockey-sticks this was allowed in the first place.
There are so many possibilities.
Still, this is the type of thing Major League Baseball and the NBA -- and even pro and college football to some extent -- are considering doing on a much bigger scale. MLB has talked about regular-season games clustered in Arizona and Florida with the teams never leaving those states while the NBA has toyed with the playoffs being centralized.
Could such things happen?
It seems far fetched.
Chris Paul was asked about it during a call with Oklahoma City area media the other day, and while the Thunder point guard and president of the National Basketball Players Association didn’t dismiss it entirely, he didn’t sound all that fired up about it.
“There are so many layers that would have to come into play for that to even happen,” he said. “We would have to know exactly what that would look like.”
“We just want to play,” he said. “We’re trying to figure out what that looks like. Right now, I’m just focused on playing, playing in some form or fashion.”
That desire is held by many. Athletes. Owners. Leagues. TV executives. The financial stakes are massive. No games means no ticket sales and reduced TV revenue. No games means smaller paychecks for players and smaller payouts for leagues.
Frankly, TV is a big reason why the PBR decided to figure out a way to do this weekend’s event. It has to be. There’d be no other reason to stage a no-fans event. The PBR won’t have any ticket revenue. It might get some money in sponsorship dollars. But the biggest payout will be from its TV partner.
So, the PBR is set to go at Lazy E.
Hard to know how many people will watch the bucking bulls and the dare-devil cowboys on CBS Sports Network, but you’d better believe the sports world will be keeping an eye on what happens in Guthrie.