While most sports leagues and organizations have refrained from holding contests and events amid the COVID-19 outbreak, the B. League made the tough decision to resume its regular season this weekend, but without spectators, the pro basketball circuit announced on Wednesday.
A total of 72 games in the top division and 59 second-division contests will be played in empty gyms until at least April 1. There are 18 games on the schedule in the top division this weekend.
Last month, the league announced it would suspend its season until Wednesday after a request by the Japanese government to limit large-scale gatherings in hopes of preventing the spread of the virus.
On Tuesday, the government announced it would extend that request for at least 10 more days. Despite this, the league is planning to return to the court as scheduled.
As a result, B. League contests will be among the few sporting events still taking place in Japan, along with spring games in Nippon Professional Baseball and sumo’s Spring Basho, which are both also happening behind closed doors.
A few internet companies, such as Basket Live, have decided to give fans free access to broadcasts of games played without spectators.
B. League chairman Masaaki Okawa hinted that Wednesday’s decision was an agonizing one, because the business of professional sports works “when it has its fans.”
The B. League announcement comes days after NPB decided to postpone the start of the 2020 season and the J. League agreed to delay the resumption of its campaign. Both leagues are hoping to play regular season games next month.
Okawa stressed that B. League clubs had already played nearly two-thirds of the schedule and finding arenas for makeup games would be difficult. He also noted that NPB had yet to begin its season while the J. League had only completed one round of games.
“We wish we had the option to suspend the games (a few more weeks),” Okawa said. “But we can’t and had to come to the conclusion to play without the fans.”
He said the league would continue monitoring the situation and make a decision on whether or not to allow fans into games by early April. Okawa also said the league could be forced to cancel games if someone on one of the teams was infected with the virus.
In the event some teams aren’t able to complete their full schedule, the final standings will be determined based on winning percentage.
Okawa said revenue from ticket sales last year was about ¥5 billion and estimated the impact of playing the upcoming games without fans would be “about ¥500, 600 million.” Meaning virus fears could create serious financial issues for the league’s teams.
“Two weeks have passed (since the request by the government last month) and like NPB and the J. League, we’ve been looking at resuming our season,” Okawa said. “But the situation is getting worse day in and day out. While we are in a difficult state of affairs, we are not (necessarily) ordered to stop playing. It’s a national matter so we will keep cooperating. But the longer this critical situation lasts, the tougher it becomes (for our clubs financially). But we do have to cooperate with the country. That’s the toughest part of it.”
Under the revised schedule, the regular season will end on May 4. On Tuesday, the league revealed a revamped playoff schedule, with the championship game taking place on May 11.