Each year, sports fans in the United States look forward to playoff time. Whether it’s the NFL, NBA, NHL, or MLB, the regular season often pales in comparison to the hype and buzz surrounding the postseason. The beauty of the playoffs is that nothing matters up until the moment two teams face off, with the winner of the game or series one step closer to their ultimate goal, and the loser sent home early. There is a symbiotic relationship in professional sports between the game and the fans, with the game creating excitement around who will be eliminated and who will prove to be the best when it’s all said and done, and the fans helping to create an atmosphere that accentuates that excitement. But this year, professional sports will attempt to recreate that same excitement without the atmosphere, as fans continue to be prohibited or limited attending games due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It will be interesting to see whether they’ll be able to accomplish that.
The NFL playoffs have been underway for weeks now, and introduced an additional seed in each conference, meaning that 14 teams had an opportunity to play for the Lombardi trophy. The Kansas City Chiefs were the favorite going in (as they have been all year), and they are still alive late in January. They will travel to Tampa Bay to play the Buccaneers in the first ever home Super Bowl, giving fans a legendary quarterback matchup between Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes. Despite the restrictions put on fan attendance, the Super Bowl looks to be as big a spectacle this year as ever.
The NHL season is underway, with the Tampa Bay Lightning entering as the defending champions. A league that has often been criticized for poorly advertising, their sport will be tested this year, without the same fans that react to every goal and check. Although their playoffs are a long way off, the NHL hopes that they can bounce back from below average ratings during their 2020 finals.
The NBA season began roughly a month ago, and to this point it has been a success. Yes, there has been the occasional quarantine, but considering they finished their first “bubble” postseason only two months before opening night, it has been an impressive feat. The playoffs were entertaining last season, and with the Lakers and Clippers both back at full strength and multiple elite players coming off injuries, this year’s play-in tournament and postseason should be able to build off of last season.
The MLB recently delayed the start of their 2021 season, giving time to ensure necessary COVID-19 safety measures. Baseball will always remain one of America’s favorite sports, but it is no secret that a lack of fans in the stands hurt them a bit last season, as game two of the Astros-Rays series was the least watched ALCS game on record. In the past, MLB players haven’t shown a great desire to play under difficult conditions, but as long as they play they are sure to have a postseason that attracts fans across the country.
There are obvious setbacks, but also promising signs for each of the four major sports playoffs. Sports figure to be a bright spot and a bit of consistency in a world that has much too little of that right now. There will be something to count on in 2021, something to look forward to. Sports fans can hold out hope that no matter what happens in the world, they’ll be able to share the moments that have brought them together for so many years, and that continue to bring the spirit of competition into the future.