I was supposed to make a road trip to Denver in mid-March to join my uncle and two of my cousins for a professional hockey game.
It was an event I’d been looking forward to since the schedule came out. It was right at the end of my spring break at the U, the game was sold out and the home team was on a hot streak and in contention for a prime playoff position. I was rather looking forward to being surrounded by 18,000 fellow die-hard Colorado Avalanche fans.
That was before life as we know it came to a standstill. Not only could I not make my trip, but there were no games being played at all — minor inconveniences compared to the effects of COVID-19, to be sure. But as life slowly gets back to normal, so, too, does the sports world.
However, it is going to be a while before fans can be back in the stands, filling stadiums, arenas and racetracks as we’ve done in the past.
At first glance, it would seem foolish for the games to go on with nobody in attendance. That certainly would have been true 10 to 20 years ago, when technology was limited. Only the biggest of events, with the biggest of television-rights contracts, would have had a reason to restart.
However, we live in a time where high-speed internet is becoming more widespread, and, with it, the ability to use live streaming services to watch just about anything we can imagine. That could be a saving grace for facilities such as Utah Motorsports Campus here in Tooele County, which had plans for an exciting season this summer before everything changed.
In talking to UMC General Manager Dixon Hunt and Marketing Director Phil Wright last week, it was suggested that UMC’s facilities could be used to stage “made-for-TV” — or, more accurately, “made-for-streaming” — events to fans all over the world. Many competitions that take place at the track have used their live-streaming capability for past events, but those services might be in demand now more than ever before.
Sure, it’s not a total replacement for the experience of witnessing the ARCA Menards Series race or Nitro World Games in person. I love the roar of the engines and the smell of burning rubber as much as any race fan you’ll ever meet. I’ll miss standing in line at the food trucks and supporting our local businesses in the paddock come lunch time instead of being glued to my computer screen.
But the sports fan in me has been going through withdrawal. I can only tolerate so many reruns of 1980s sitcoms, particularly in a time when hockey and basketball playoffs would be reaching their crescendos and baseball and NASCAR would be just hitting their stride.
It was a strange sight indeed to see NASCAR’s Cup Series competing at an empty track in Darlington, South Carolina, this week. But once I got past the empty grandstands, it was nice to have part of my regular routine back. More of it will return when and if other professional sports resume play in the next couple months, filling the airwaves with a much-needed distraction from everything else going on in the world.
And, who knows? The ability to live-stream events might even be a saving grace for high school sports. Again, when I was in high schoolm the idea of playing varsity sports with no fans in attendance seemed comical at best. But the reality is that crowds are currently limited to 50 people or less. If that continues into the fall, that means it’s unlikely there will be fans in the stands for high school football games.
Fortunately, that doesn’t mean we’re all left in the dark. Grantsville streams its football, volleyball and basketball games — something that saved me a time or two when the Cowboys were on the road, or I had somewhere else I needed to be. It also saved me when Stansbury’s football team played a playoff game in St. George last fall, and during the state volleyball tournament when I could watch Tooele and Stansbury in split-screen.
Right now, I don’t know if I’ll be allowed to be on the sidelines of high school football games in the fall. However, thanks to technology, I won’t miss a single moment.
Darren Vaughan is a veteran sports writer from Moab, Utah. He hopes that he is allowed to be on the sidelines during football season this year, because that’s how he gets his steps in. Email him at email@example.com.