NRL braces for empty stadiums, fan separation over coronavirus threat

The situation is not dramatically worse in the United Kingdom than it is in Australia. As it stood on Friday, there were 116 confirmed coronavirus cases in the UK and 60 in Australia.

While Australia’s chief medical officer, Brendan Murphy, urged Australians to monitor coronavirus updates and carry on with their daily lives, the NRL has fast-tracked plans to deal with a COVID-19 escalation.

The NRL is planning ahead to combat the impact of the coronavirus outbreak.Credit:AAP

The NRL and AFL have been in daily contact with both state and federal health authorities and will refer a decision on whether matches go ahead to Canberra’s lawmakers.

NRL officials have discussed the possibility of separating supporters in different pockets of the ground if numbers are restricted. Another scenario would be matches played in front of empty grandstands.

The potential financial fallout for all 16 clubs of a restriction or ban on spectators would be varying, but high-drawing clubs such as the Broncos and Eels would be expected to suffer a loss in gate takings.

Other clubs with smaller attendances wouldn’t be as adversely affected and the NRL has been analysing the fiscal impact of a major downturn in crowd numbers.

Organisers are still expecting a near sellout to flock to Bankwest Stadium to launch the 2020 season between two old western Sydney rivals.

But it’s the coming weeks and months which the NRL already has an eye on.

Broadcasters, which could even generate a small spike in viewing numbers with crowd control, are nervous about the possibility of further travel restrictions being in place during the winter flu season.

The nightmare scenario would be for matches not to go ahead if there’s a major escalation in the coronavirus threat, a scenario which still seems very unlikely at this stage despite NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard warning the virus was “unlikely” to be contained.

We are not jumping to any conclusions just yet, but of course we are mindful of the problems that might exist

Todd Greenberg

All 16 NRL teams will converge on Brisbane in early May for this year’s Magic Round, the inaugural version of which last season was dubbed a huge success.

“We will put plans in place,” NRL chief executive Todd Greenberg said of the coronavirus threat. “We are not jumping to any conclusions just yet, but of course we are mindful of the problems that might exist.”

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