North Carolina Sports Outlook: Major Economic Hits Due to COVID-19

North Carolina Sports Outlook: Major Economic Hits Due to COVID-19

Let’s start by looking back. Way back. Or at least what seems like way back. It’s the middle of March. The ACC men’s basketball tournament — the marquee event of the North Carolina sports calendar — is taking place at the Greensboro Coliseum for the 27th time in the event’s history.

The tournament holds a special place in the sports consciousness in The Tarheel State. Those of a certain age who grew up here often share memories of teachers wheeling TV carts into classrooms so everyone could watch the action and cheer for their teams instead of doing schoolwork. The pastime of watching North Carolina sports was coming to an end.

Young people having fun watching a sporting event prior to COVID-19

Life, essentially, is put on hold for that week.

It’s almost fitting, in a way. That was the time that sports, and life as a whole, in this state came to a screeching halt.

The third day of the ACC Tournament was going to tip-off at noon. Top-seeded Florida State was to face-off against eighth-seeded Clemson in the first game of the day.

Instead, the Seminoles — the ACC’s No. 1 team at the end of the regular season — were handed the trophy for winning the conference championship and every team still in the tournament was sent home.

That’s when the dominoes began to fall for North Carolina sports. Cancellations and postponements for sporting events scheduled to take place across the state came next. And with them came the loss of millions of dollars for cities across the state.

The ACC Tournament and the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament were expected to pump more than $22 million into Greensboro’s economy. The Gate City took another $10 million hit in June, when North Carolina A&T canceled its week of homecoming celebrations — better known as The Greatest Homecoming on Earth.

In Winston-Salem, the ATP canceled the Winston-Salem Open. The tournament, held each August right before the U.S. Open, was expected to generate between $4-4.5 million and draw between 35,000 and 40,000 fans during the week, according to Visit Winston-Salem.

And then there is Charlotte.

Charlotte Motor Speedway held a race without fans over the Memorial Day weekend, and also saw the NASCAR Cup Series move the annual All-Star Race to Bristol Motor Speedway. The track’s website says it annually pumps more than $450 million into the local economy by holding three Cup Series races “as well as more than three dozen other events for automotive and motorsports enthusiasts of all ages.”

In mid-March, the PGA Tour canceled the Wells Fargo Championship, the tour’s annual stop at Quail Hollow Club that attracts some of the top names in the game of golf. According to a 2019 report from the Charlotte Observer, last year’s tournament was expected to generate between $40-60 million for the city.

Updates on North Carolina Sports Cancelled Since March

ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament

Logo for 2020 ACC Men's Basketball Tournament, North Carolina sports
Image Courtesy of The ACC Website

Dates: March 10-14

City: Greensboro

When ACC Commissioner John Swofford took the microphone surrounded by Florida State’s players and coaches, it was difficult to foresee what life would be like in the coming days, weeks and months. This was less than 24 hours after the NBA season suspension began, following Utah Jazz forward Rudy Gobert becoming the first professional athlete in America to test positive for the coronavirus.

Swofford said, “You can ask why (the decision to cancel) was not made sooner; that’s a fair question. The answer is that it’s an extraordinarily fluid situation with information coming to us that changes, I used to say, by the week, then I said by the day, now I say by the hour.” Many hours have passed from now to then, and it is unclear when college sports will resume in North Carolina and across the United States.

NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament

Image Courtesy of Wikipedia

Dates: March 19-22

City: Greensboro

North Carolina cities have been men’s basketball tournament sites a total of 58 times. Greensboro has been a tournament site 13 times, including holding the Final Four in 1974. The most recent year the Greensboro Coliseum was a tournament site was 2012. The NCAA Tournament has held games in Charlotte, the state’s most-populated city, a whopping 23 times, including the Final Four in 1994. The tournament has visited Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill a combined 14 times. Durham was a tournament site in 1954, and Chapel Hill was a site in 1988. Raleigh’s most-recent time holding tournament games was 2016.

Wells Fargo Championship

Logo for Wells Fargo Championship, North Carolina sports event
Image Courtesy of Wells Fargo Championship

Dates: May 4-10

New Dates: May 3-9, 2021

City: Charlotte

It’s been less than 20 years since the introduction of this tournament to the PGA Tour’s schedule. Yet, it has quickly has become one of the tour’s top events — often drawing some of the pro golf’s biggest names to Charlotte. The 2017 tournament was the only year it took place outside of Charlotte. That year, it moved to Eagle Point in Wilmington while Quail Hollow prepared to host the PGA Championship.

ACC Baseball Tournament

Logo for ACC Baseball Championship 2020, North Carolina sports event
Image Courtesy of The ACC Website

Date: May 19-24

City: Charlotte

The conference’s baseball tournament has been in North Carolina — going back and forth between Greensboro and Durham — in 10 of the past 11 years. The only time during that span it wasn’t played in North Carolina came in 2017. This year was going to be the first time the tournament took place in Charlotte. It also would have been the 23rd time in the tournament’s history it was to be played in North Carolina.

Winston-Salem Open

Logo for Winston-Salem Open, North Carolina sports event
Image Courtesy of Winson-Salem Open

Dates: Aug. 23-29

New Dates: Aug. 21-28, 2021

City: Winston-Salem

This was to be the 10th edition of the annual men’s tournament held in the middle of August during the week leading up to the U.S. Open. John Isner, a Greensboro native and graduate of Page High School, won the tournament in 2011, its first year, and then repeated as champion in 2012. In 2019, the hot ticket was a women’s exhibition match featuring Coco Gauff, who defeated Venus Williams at Wimbledon the month before, and Ashleigh Barty, the winner of the 2019 French Open.

The Presidents Cup

New dates: Sept. 19-25, 2022

City: Charlotte

The biennial matches between pro golfers from the United States and the continents of Africa, Australia, Asia and South America have been pushed back a year. This move came shortly after the Ryder Cup, the biennial matches between American and European golfers, was moved to 2021. The fans make the Ryder Cup what it is, so the decision was made to postpone them for a year. This in turn led to the postponement of the Presidents Cup. The last time this happened was in 2001, when the Ryder Cup was postponed by a year in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

North Carolina Sports Events That Still Took Place

NASCAR All-Star Race

Logo for Nascar All-Star Race
Image Courtesy of Bristol Motor Speedway

Date: May 16

City: Charlotte

2020 was only the second time in the event’s history it took place outside of North Carolina. The first All-Star Race happened at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1985 and moved to Atlanta in 1986 — won that year by Hall of Fame driver Bill Elliott. The annual race returned to Charlotte in 1987 and ran at the 1.5-mile oval in Cabarrus County until this year. It moved to Bristol Motor Speedway, and Chase Elliott, Bill’s son, was the winner. This year’s All-Star Race was the first Cup Series event to have fans in the stands since competition resumed.

Coca-Cola 600

Image Courtesy of Charlotte Motor Speedway

Date: Held May 24 (without fans)

City: Charlotte

This is an odd one on the list. NASCAR held one of its signature races at one of its signature tracks, without fans in the stands. The Coca-Cola 600, held over Memorial Day weekend, was just the third Cup Series race run in the COVID-19 Era. The organization’s top series resumed competition May 17 at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina and has been running races with scaled-down crew and support staff at tracks.

Stay Safe

No one is happy about the state of sports right now. But an important thing to remember is the sooner we are able to get COVID-19 under control, the sooner we can get back to enjoying some of our favorite teams and athletes again. Some great ways to help with this is by wearing a mask and remaining socially distant to the best of your ability.

Check out this article to see why wearing a mask could help prevent the spread of COVID-19, and stay safe!

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