This week, the Miami Herald released a detailed look at every South Florida sports team's plans now that the novel coronavirus will probably become a pandemic that affects every community. Because it's more of a question of when than if the virus will become a concern locally, Miami's teams are rightly getting ahead of things and making plans for the future.
The situation is getting real. Coronavirus is no longer something far, far away in China: The first positive tests have been confirmed in Florida. Ultra Music Festival has already been canceled, so it's not farfetched to think sports games too could be called off.
For Miami sports fans, it might be time to consider taking precautions. If the teams are protecting themselves, it only makes sense that the fans should do the same. They might not want to wait for their team to say it's not safe to take their money.
For most athletes, signing autographs and shaking fans' hands have been put on hold. That decision, of course, comes at the worst time possible for Miami Marlins fans who have traveled north to Jupiter for spring training, a months-long exercise that has incredibly close fan-to-player contact ingrained in its tradition. According to radio host and Marlins insider Craig Mish, even though Major League Baseball has made recommendations for players regarding how they should interact with fans, the Marlins haven't gone that far yet.
The Marlins have not discouraged their players from signing autographs. I witnessed many signing today. The organization handed out markers for photos and cards and ball point pens for baseballs to the players so they can sign. This is not that difficult.— Craig Mish (@CraigMish) March 5, 2020
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Crowds are small at spring training compared with other events, however, and in a few weeks, the Marlins will head to Miami to play at home.
Luckily, this is one of the slowest times of the year for local sports, so there's some time to assess the situation. The Florida Panthers are closing out their season, one that seems certain to end, once again, without a playoff appearance. The Miami Dolphins won't be hosting a game for a good six months. The Marlins still have a few weeks to figure out this issue before Opening Day on March 26.
The Miami Heat, however, is a different story. The team is smack in the middle of a season, and on any given night, 18,000 fans pack elbow-to-elbow inside the arena. Heat fans will be the first ones who'll have to make the tough decision about whether their health is worth the risk to attend a game. Because the Heat is headed to the playoffs, the season will likely stretch into late April at least. It will be interesting to see if fans — even those who have already purchased and paid for tickets — stay home and watch the games on TV.
In many cases, the reward of seeing a game that, in the long run, isn't anything all that special doesn't warrant the risk of huddling next to 20,000 to 80,000 people, using the same bathrooms, and touching all of the same door handles and countertops. South Florida sports fans will have to make this decision soon — if the decision isn't already made for them.