NBA eyes neutral sites, clear cities as virus fears deepen: report

New York (AFP) –


NBA officials are looking at moving games to neutral venues without coronavirus outbreaks, reports said Wednesday, as a top epidemiologist recommended the league stage games behind closed doors.

Among the scenarios league sources say have been discussed were moving games from areas where officials are restricting gatherings to those where the outbreak has not caused such issues and shifting some games to neutral sites, potenially not even NBA markets, in order to get them played, ESPN reported.

The NBA regular season is set to continue through April 15 followed by about two months of playoff games, although league officials were reportedly set to begin a series of calls on Wednesday to talk over the next steps in dealing with coronavirus issues.

European football leagues have played matches without spectators and the option has been discussed, the league sending a memo to clubs telling them to look into what it would take to play home games without spectators.

"We would recommend that there not be large crowds. If that means not having any people in the audience, as the NBA plays, so be it," said Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, when asked Wednesday about the NBA.

"Anything that has large crowd is something that would give the risk to spread."

According to US health officials, more than 1,000 people in the United States have contracted the coronavirus and at least 31 deaths have been attributed to it.

NBA clubs would take a hit in ticket sales revenues and broadcast rights should they be unable to deliver games, but the safety issues of players and supporters would be a much greater issue.

NBA team owners were set to talk with NBA commissioner Adam Silver on Wednesday, according to ESPN, with two other calls planned Thursday involving team presidents and general managers.

ESPN reported that suspending games is also among the options facing the NBA, which is hampered by limited coronavirus testing across the United States and therefore a lack of understanding about how widespread the problem could become.

A major concern for health officials have been large gatherings such as typical NBA games produce with sellout crowds in huge arenas.

Medical authorities want to avoid a mass outbreak of coronavirus that would overwhelm hospitals and other medical facilities in an area, hoping that preventing major concerts and sports events would reduce the total number of people infected or at least spread out the length of time between new cases to ease the strain on intensive care beds.

The report said NBA clubs have hesitated to be the first to ban fans from home games.

San Francisco health officials have not forced the Golden State Warriors, whose home games reportedly bring in an NBA-best $3.6-$3.8 million each in their new $1 billion arena, to play without fans but such conversations are ongoing with the club, ESPN reported.

Mike DeWine, the governor of Ohio, has recommended that indoor teams in his state play without spectators, but the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers have a six-game road trip and don't play at home again until March 24.

The NBA has eliminated media from locker rooms, a staple of US team sport post-game interaction, in what the league vows will be a temporary measure.