Absolutely, not returning will hurt a sports league and force their relevance in the eyes of the fans and the general public to go down dramatically. This has happened in the past with lockout season in all four major north American sports and each league knows that their survival is based on returning to play.
First, let’s address the Elephant in the room, Major League Baseball (MLB) the only league that does not have a return to pay plan in place and it is absolutely tasteless. This holdout has shown that the players and owners have such big egos that they can’t agree on a return to play plan and this will ruin baseball for a long time. The idea of baseball as a sport that can easily be played in an empty stadium, which most small market teams already do with how low their attendance Is, is not revolutionary.
The sport lends itself to being played with no fans and it is easy to keep social distancing regulations as the sport already has some in place, with spacing of positions in the dugout and bullpen. Any other regulations that can be added will be fairly simple as it is building on the already established formula of core baseball fundamentals. But at the end of the day this is the only league that can not agree on the financial side of a return to play plan and fans have already started to notice and have started to ignore them.
This has happened before as the MLB as they have had several lockouts, and fans answer to those lockouts was to change the channel and watch other sports. This was exactly what happened in the early 90’s as fans turned to basketball and a rising NHL and boosted their fan bases while MLB staggered until a resurgent’s to the end of the 90’s and into the 2000’s.
As we are learning history is bound to repeat itself. With the Covid-19 pandemic fans would rather watch the new crazy tournaments going on in the NHL as they have agreed on a 24 team playoff tournament that will start in August and the NBA having the 20 best teams fighting it out in late August and September to give us a NBA champion. Not to mention the return of the NFL which has surpassed baseball as Americas favorite pastime in the fall. Will there be room for baseball? If they can’t figure it out and come to an agreement soon, absolutely not.