(Reuters) - North America’s sports leagues may be itching to return to action but 72% of those who responded to a Seton Hall poll said they would not feel safe to attend games until a vaccine for the novel coronavirus is developed.
Asked what they would do if the leagues resumed play before there was a vaccine, 12% said in the poll that was released on Thursday that they would attend but only if social distancing could be maintained.
Only 13 percent said they would feel safe.
The poll run by the Sharkey Institute within the Stillman School of Business was conducted over April 6-8 with 762 respondents.
Over the past month, the pandemic has shut down world sport on an unprecedented scale.
“This virus has the attention and respect of the nation,” noted Rick Gentile, director of the Seton Hall Sports Poll.
“Those who identify as sports fans, at all levels of interest, line up closely with the general population in regard to their own safety and that of the players.”
The number of confirmed infections of novel coronavirus were reported to have exceeded 460,000 in the United States on Thursday with a death toll of 16,504.
The National Basketball Association suspended its season on March 11 after a Utah Jazz player tested positive for the coronavirus which was quickly followed by the National Hockey, Major League Baseball and other sports postponing or cancelling events.
While Americans indicated they were in no rush to fill stadiums and arenas, they clearly miss their sport with 76% saying they would watch broadcasts of the games with the same interest as before, with only 16% saying they would be less interested.
In what could be a worrying sign for the leagues, only 29% said they very much missed having the opportunity to watch live sports.
Many of North America’s major leagues have been brainstorming scenarios that would help them to return to action as soon as possible, even playing games in empty stadiums before the epidemic is completely under control.
U.S. President Donald Trump told sports commissioners on Saturday during a conference call that he hoped that leagues and competitions, suspended by the outbreak, would soon be back in action.
“I want fans back in the arenas,” Trump said later at a news briefing. “Whenever we are ready. As soon as we can, obviously.”
Trump also said he believes the NFL season, which is due to kickoff in September, should start on time.
Most Americans, however, according to the Seton Hall poll are not as enthusiastic with only 6% indicating the NFL should start up as planned with 70% saying the league should not begin play if social distancing still needs to be maintained.
As for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, the year’s biggest sporting event, 84% of Americans felt the International Olympic Committee acted appropriately in postponing it until 2021, with only 14% believing they acted too quickly.
Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto, editing by Pritha Sarkar