Welcome to Florida, the post-pandemic sports capital of the United States: column

The governor lays out the welcome mat for numerous professional leagues, though it could give new meaning to the state song “Old Folks at Home.”
Florida welcomes you, especially if you're a professional sports league in need of a place to play.
Florida welcomes you, especially if you're a professional sports league in need of a place to play. [ Google Maps ]
Published May 14, 2020

ORLANDO — Pay no attention to the critics, my fellow Floridians.

Let us embrace what we are about to become.

Let us relish and revere our soon-to-be status as the post-pandemic professional sports capital of the United States.

It’s no a secret that our state has never been known for having the best of professional sports teams (see Jaguars, Bucs and Dolphins), but it’s looking more and more like we may soon have the most professional sports teams.

If you’re scoring at home, our state may soon harbor displaced teams from three leagues — Major League Baseball, the NBA and Major League Soccer — all here at one time in a desperate attempt to save their seasons amid a global pandemic that has shut down sports for more than two months.

Florida’s official state song is appropriately entitled Old Folks at Home — which, during this coronavirus crisis, is probably a good thing considering we are ready to open up our borders to hundreds of athletes from all over the globe. There are many experts who believe it’s too soon and too risky for athletes to be trading blood and sweat when a highly contagious disease has infected our planet, but, hey, what’s a pandemic when LeBron needs to win another championship if he ever expects to catch MJ?!!!

The Sunshine State is traditionally known for its hospitality industry, but, these days, we are becoming internationally famous for our sports hospitality industry. It started a few weeks ago when Gov. Ron DeSantis, presumably taking his marching orders from President Trump, declared professional wrestling as an “essential business” in Florida, and it has been mushrooming ever since.

DeSantis says “people are chomping at the bit” for live sports and he has aggressively let it be known that he wants Florida to take center stage in bringing basketball games, UFC fights and wrestling matches back into our living rooms.

“People are starved for content,” DeSantis says. “If you think about it, we have never had a period like this in modern American history where you’ve had so little new content, particularly in the sporting realm. I mean, we are watching reruns from like the early 2000s.”

Correction, Mr. Governor, we’re watching reruns from the late 1990s (see ESPN’s Michael Jordan documentary) and discussing and debating it like it just happened yesterday.

DeSantis has become a savior for sports executives across the country. Think about it: Who knows where Vince McMahon’s WWE stock price would be right now if DeSantis hadn’t allowed the organization to tape WrestleMania and other live shows at its performance center in east Orlando. The same with UFC president Dana White, who was allowed to put on a live pay-per-view show — UFC 249 — in Jacksonville on Saturday and has two more events planned in the next few days.

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“We love it,” Trump said in a taped message that aired on ESPN before UFC 249 started. “We think it’s important. Get the sports leagues back. Let’s play. You do the social distancing and whatever else you have to do. But we need sports. We want our sports back. And congratulations to Dana White and the UFC.”

WWE and UFC are just blips on the radar when you consider what other sports leagues may soon be coming out of the dark and into the sunshine. There are multiple reports the NBA and MLS are both considering bringing every team in their entire leagues to Central Florida so they can play out their seasons on Disney World property at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex.

MLS, according to multiple reports, is exploring a possible plan that would bring all of its 26 teams to Central Florida, where they would quarantine together at one of the massive resort hotels on Disney property and play their games at Wide World of Sports. It has also been reported that the NBA is considering a similar plan

In fact, NBA commissioner Adam Silver, in a teleconference with players and union officials on Friday, reportedly said if the league returns to play that the likely scenario is to sequester the teams in one or two cities — most likely Orlando and/or Las Vegas.

Meanwhile, Major League Baseball has submitted a plan that would call for a curtailed season that would begin around the Fourth of July. Naturally, teams would prefer to play at their regular-season ballparks, but if certain teams can’t get medical and government approval within their own states (or countries), guess who is ready to swoop in and come to the rescue if the Blue Jays can’t play in Toronto or the Yankees can’t play in New York?

It’s a bird.

It’s a plane.

It’s Superman!

Actually, it’s Ron DeSantis.

And that ‘S’ on his chest stands for “Sports.”

Let’s all sing along to the newest verse of our state song:

“Way down upon the Suwannee River,

Far, far away.

That’s where the sports leagues are a-flockin’

Just keep the old folks away!”

• • •

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