Before some players returned to the team facility Thursday for testing, the 49ers already had some experience with the new normal of return-to-play protocols amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Well, sort of.
Leeds United, the newly-promoted Premier League club that the 49ers own a stake in, completed their season a day before the 49ers' rookies, quarterbacks and injured players were tested for COVID-19. The Whites' season was suspended in March but resumed last month without a hitch, and only one player or staff member in their now-former division has tested positive this month.
"They've done a good job, so there's learnings there," 49ers executive vice president of football operations Paraag Marathe, who serves on Leeds' board, told NBC Sports Bay Area on Thursday. "And those learnings are probably also more on a league level, but there's certain things [the team can learn from]."
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The now-completed Championship and soon-to-be-completed Premier League in England offer arguably the best point of comparison for the NFL's plans to conduct the 2020 NFL season. It's not a perfect one, considering the United Kingdom -- one of the countries in Europe hardest-hit by the coronavirus -- has a much flatter curve and a higher mortality rate than the United States.
But teams in England's top two divisions didn't play in a bubble, which NWSL, NBA and WNBA teams are doing. They also played far fewer games than, say, the Giants and A's will during the shortened MLB season. Leeds, for instance, had at least two (and as many as eight) days between all of their remaining matches when the campaign resumed on June 21. Marathe said the 49ers, for example, can learn a lot from how Leeds handled their road trips during the restarted season.
This level of communication isn't new. Marathe, who's also the President of 49ers Enterprises, said Collin Meador, the group's director, and 49ers CEO Jed York have visited Leeds "probably every four or five weeks" since the 49ers purchased a stake in the club two years ago. There are weekly calls with Leeds owner Andrea Radrizzani, managing director Angus Kinnear and director of football Victor Orta, so the 49ers have been "very, very attuned" with how Leeds is run since before the pandemic.
"There's information-sharing all the time," Marathe explained. "We're helping each other, both on the business side and on the football side, on just how we do things."
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Leeds United's restarted season ended with a title and promotion to the Premier League, ending a 16-year drought away from England's top flight. The 49ers, of course, would love to end their own long drought and win their first Super Bowl since the 1994 season.
But considering the uncertainty surrounding this NFL season, the 49ers surely will take any ending in which the season is safely completed. Luckily, their counterparts across the pond know a thing or two about that.