The Bubble: ‘We’ll Get Through This Together’ Kept Major League Games Going

The Bubble 

‘We’ll Get Through This Together’ Kept Major League Games Going


Bubble. Hub. Whatever the label, controlled environments where athletes and others involved in staging sporting events are separated from the general population have been a crucial means of getting leagues, teams and even events like Supercross back in business following the unprecedented coronavirus shutdown.

The bubble grew so big that “Saturday Night Live” spoofed the concept in a skit about women trying to talk their way past Chris Rock and the NBA’s protective barrier.

Among the first to employ a bubble approach, which helped preserve broadcasts that economically fuel much of the sports industry, were Feld Entertainment’s Supercross property and the National Women’s Soccer League. Both staged events in Utah.

Commissioner Lisa Baird reported that the NWSL didn’t see a single positive coronavirus test result during the one-off Challenge Cup in June and July.

Feld reported similar results at the WNBA bubble in the Tampa area, where IMG Academy housed athletes and crews while putting on games at one of Feld’s nearby rehearsal halls.

First Major League Soccer and then the NBA, which was the first of the major sports leagues to shut down its season in March, staged successful tournaments at ESPN Wide World of Sports in the Orlando area. The NHL pulled off its own playoffs in Toronto and Edmonton, eventually crowning the Tampa Bay Lightning champion after the Stanley Cup Finals at Rogers Place.

Major League Baseball used hub cities to get through its playoffs. The Los Angeles Dodgers beat the Tampa Bay Rays in the World Series, played entirely at brand-new Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.

It wasn’t easy. Some athletes and officials were sequestered for months at a time. Compliance with health and safety protocols was strictly monitored, testing for COVID-19 was increased and sanitization measures that will likely be a permanent feature of sports and entertainment going forward were devised and carried out.

“There’s no question that what they did with ‘the campus’ (as the Wide World of Sports bubble was called) was about as successful from a public health and economic perspective as they could possibly do at this time,” remarked Allen Hershkowitz, a leading environmental health expert who works with the New York Yankees and a host of other sports teams and leagues. “It was as positive an outcome as one could hope for in the context of venues being closed down all over the country.”

As leagues determine their next moves, Hershkowitz said, it’s entirely possible that the bubble concept will continue to be a part of the sports industry’s immediate future, until the global pandemic begins to fade in the rearview.

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