VIDEO: Germany may provide blueprint for how US sports could resume

Sports games without fans, a current consideration of professional sports leagues in the U.S., are inching closer to reality in Germany.

The Bundesliga is Germany’s top soccer league, with 36 teams in two divisions. Players for the league’s teams are now back on the training field. Bundesliga is aiming to resume its season, which had nine match days left, in mid-May.

“They started to train in small groups, only two or three players on the pitch at the same time,” said Bernd Roetmann, a journalist with German television network Sport 1. “They don’t use the locker rooms. They have to shower at home. They basically get out of their cars in their training jerseys, train a bit, and then go home.”

The dream scenario for the Bundesliga fans in Germany is to be able to enjoy their beloved soccer in about a month, but on TV only. German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced this week that the ban on large public gatherings in her country will remain in effect until Aug. 31.

Money is the motivating factor to finish the season, as the Bundesliga is considered the second richest soccer league in the world, behind England’s Premier League. In the 2018-2019 season, the German soccer league reported that its 18 clubs in the top division generated $4.6 billion, and the 18 clubs in its second division brought in $847 million.

“The clubs planned for the broadcasting revenue, and they have expenses,” Roetmann noted. “And some clubs might not survive without these games.”

The exact plan for how and where the Bundesliga will start playing games has yet to be revealed. In the U.S., the possibility of professional sports leagues playing games without fans at neutral sites has been discussed. The idea is under consideration in Germany.

One option for the Bundesliga would be to play multiple consecutive games in one stadium. Roetmann said in Germany, they call such games without spectators “ghost games.”

The league has suggested each stadium site would be limited to about 250 people, including players, staff, and television crews, he said.

Though the return of sports is under consideration in Germany, safety remains a top priority. For the Bundesliga to resume its season, widespread testing for the coronavirus would need to be available.

The Bundesliga is drafting a plan where players would be tested for the coronavirus every three days.

“Everyone wants to have some kind of distraction in these terrible times,” Roetmann said. “On the other hand, testing capacities are not limitless; and if you try to test Bundesliga players every three days, then there are doctors and nurses that have to wait for their test results.”

May is approaching, but it is clear the Bundesliga still has hurdles to clear before the competition continues. For now there is training on the field again, and players in Germany can only hope each day brings them closer to playing in a match. That alone would surely give U.S. sports fans hope.

Globally, fans are eager for sports to resume.

Fans of the club Borussia Monchengladbach are ready to show their support if the season resumes behind closed doors. Some have even paid to have plastic cutouts of themselves made to be placed in the stands when games return.

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Dave Johnson

Dave Johnson is Senior Sports Director and morning sports anchor. He first arrived at WTOP in 1989, left in 1992 and returned in 1995. He is a three-time winner of the A.I.R. award as best radio sportscaster in D.C. In 2008 he won the Edward R. Murrow award for best writing for sports commentaries.

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