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Fan-free season could spark $5.5 billion loss for NFL

Mike Florio and Chris Simms look at some of the COVID-19 related updates around the NFL including governors preparing to welcome back professional sports, team facilities re-opening and modified facemasks for players.

If the NFL plays a season without fans in the stands, it’s a given that the NFL will lose money.

Mike Ozanian of estimates that loss at a staggering $5.5 billion.

That’s the sum of lost ticket revenue, concessions, parking, and merchandise sales, if all games are played without fans. It would amount to 38 percent of the league’s total revenue, based on 2018 numbers.

The absence of fans would hit some teams harder than others. As explained by Ozanian, the Cowboys and Patriots would lose more than half their total revenue. Other teams, like the Bills, Titans, and Bengals, would lose less than a third.

It’s unclear whether and to what extent games will be played without fans. It’s possible that some states will allow stadiums to be open, and that others won’t. It’s also possible that medical advances in the coming weeks and months (such as a greater understanding of what it means to test positive for coronavirus antibodies) will make it easier to open stadiums and invite fans at low or no risk for developing COVID-19.

Any money lost in 2020 will potentially affect the 2021 salary cap. As recently explained, however, the league and the union set the annual spending limit via negotiation, and it’s possible that the two sides will agree to, for example, borrow against future salary caps in order to keep the 2021 cap at or near where it otherwise would have been.

Whether the revenue actually drops remains to be seen, and it will be determined by plenty of factors beyond the control of the league.