The NBA was the first major U.S. sports league to suspend operations due to the pandemic back on March 11, and since then mainstream pro sports—as well as just about every other level from Little League to rec league—have largely been set on pause.
In recent weeks, however, the wheels of the sports industrial complex have begun to turn once again, albeit in a variety of altered states. In global soccer, Germany’s Bundesliga, England’s Premier League, and Italy’s Serie A all resumed play in empty stadiums. On this side of the Atlantic, Major League Soccer kicked off an abbreviated tournament format this week, played in a bubble in Orlando, Florida. The NBA is set to restart its season at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando. The NHL is aiming to return to action by August 1, with teams playing in hub cities Toronto and Edmonton.
It’s going to be weird, but sports fans are ready.
Gatorade is also ready, and the brand launched a new spot starring MLB star Bryce Harper, NBA rookie Zion Williamson, WNBA all-star Elena Delle Donne, track star Sydney McLaughlin, and NFL running back Todd Gurley.
The pros here are so desperate for any sports action, they’re willing to play whatever to get it. Even if it means wearing hockey goalie pads while bouncing a soccer ball.
It’s a fun reflection of what many are feeling. Gatorade has spent its time since March sharing home workout and training tips from its deep roster of sponsored pros with a social effort called Make the Days Count; watching The Last Dance (and basking in the added commercial halo for the brand); and finding fun ways to honor American high school athletes with Player of the Year awards.
But as much as “Ready To Play Anything” confirms how so many fans are feeling, there’s an element here that feels . . . off.
Like the novelty of all that training at home and distancing has finally worn off. Yet here we are in the midst of a virus surge, to the point where with states like California, Texas, and Florida (temporary home to both the NBA and MLS) close to re-instituting lockdown protocols.
And sports can’t escape. The NHL announced that 43 of its players had tested positive since phase two of its return schedule had started back on June 8. Houston Rockets star Russell Westbrook has tested positive. Since Major League Baseball started its spring training, it’s had 66 positive tests (58 players and eight staff) out of 3,470 tests, plus a number of players have declared that they wouldn’t be playing due to health and safety concerns.
All the Gatorade athletes are observing social distancing responsibly, but the defiant call of “It’s time to play!” may be a tad premature.
Jeff Kearney, global head of sports marketing for Gatorade, says the ad is trying to capture every athletes’ love to play, to get out and compete in anything. The brand has also created a free Return to Play online guidebook with resources for sports health professionals to help programs safely start playing again.
“We are deeply invested in the health and safety of athletes and everyone involved in sports’ return,” says Kearney. “We believe every athlete is entitled to choose what’s best for their health and well-being, especially those at all levels who just want to get out and play again.”