CHICAGO – Many of the things that people have enjoyed for years have disappeared over the past few months with Chicago along with the State of Illinois spending most of the spring sheltered in place.
Slowly things have started to open up, with the state going to Phase 3 of the COVID-19 return protocol late in May and then Phase 4 at the end of June.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot was announcing that plan on Tuesday when she was inevitably asked what this newest phase might mean for sporting evens in Chicago.
“As a big sports fan, I love the question,” said the mayor when fielding it.
Not since the Blackhawks’ win over the Sharks at the United Center on March 11th has their been an event in town. At the moment, there is not scheduled to be one, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be as leagues start returning to play.
When they do, Chicago’s venues will likely be open to housing them, but just the players and staff only.
“We’re in constant conversations with all the sports teams and a lot of that is going to be dictated by what their league offices in conjunction with their player’s associations really say,” said Lightfoot. “My expectation, in the short term, is that they will reopen, but without fans in the stands.”
This is still good news for a few teams hoping to play games in the coming months in the city. The NHL is still looking at Chicago as a possible hub city for the league’s return to play tournament that’s supposed to happen at the end of July.
With a schedule likely to be imposed by Major League Baseball owner Rob Manfred coming days, the Cubs and White Sox will return to their respective parks training and games. Major League Soccer, the WNBA, and the NWSL have planned tournaments with their Chicago teams, but no plans yet for games in town.
It’s the question of fans that gets tricky since most major sports aren’t allowing any over the coming months. The NHL and NBA season restarts won’t likely have spectators and neither will MLB for a while, with only NASCAR just having a handful of fans this past weekend for events at the Talladega Superspeedway.
Lightfoot, like most others, doesn’t have a good answer when fans will be back in the stands again.
“My hope is, over time, we can get to a place where we start to see some fans in the seats in stadiums and other venues,” said Lightfoot. “Look they’re being smart, they’re being prudent, just as we are. They’re most valuable asset, of course, is their players, and we want to make sure that when they reopen, there doing it in a way that the players also have confidence that their health is being protected.
“Right now I think that means, in the short term, reopening but without fans actually physically present.”
When it comes to playing high school sports, Lightfoot said that decision will be made in conjunction with the IHSA. That decision, like most others over the coming weeks and months, will depend on how the virus does or doesn’t spread.
“We don’t anticipate it being static. We’re emphasizing that we’re starting, but we’re going to have progressions through Phase 4, depending on what the health care metrics are,” said Lightfoot. “We expect to see some movement and other things coming online even in Phase 4.”
Sports will be included in that as they begin to return to the city for the first time since March this summer.