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Hurricane Irma's Impact Felt on Sports at All Levels

20 Sep, 2017

By: Michael Popke

For the second time in as many weeks, professional, college and high school sports were forced to make major adjustments in the wake of Mother Nature’s fury.

While residents in Texas were still recovering from historical flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey’s rage, Hurricane Irma made landfall in Florida on Sept. 10 and worked its way up the south half of the East Coast. While the resulting damage was not as devastating, Irma’s impact was significant.

Here are some of the ways in which the disaster affected sports:

  • The National Football League’s Miami Dolphins were supposed to kick off the 2017 season by hosting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sept. 10 at Hard Rock Stadium; that game was postponed until Week 11. (Fortunately, both teams had a bye week scheduled that week.) That meant one fewer game on the TV schedule, but ratings were down overall for the NFL’s first week of the regular season, as viewers tuned into cable news and The Weather Channel. BloombergBusiness.com reports that “fewer people watched the opening week of National Football League coverage than they did last year, a decline TV executives chalk up to Hurricanes Irma and Harvey. Cable news and the Weather Channel almost tripled their audiences in prime time and grew fourfold during the day, according to data from the networks, drawing fans away from football. Thursday Night Football was down 13 percent, and Sunday games on Fox and CBS also declined. Sunday Night Football on … NBC, featuring the archrival New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys, was a rare bright spot.”
  • Major League Baseball’s Miami Marlins allowed players families to travel with the team on a week-long road trip that was supposed to end Sept. 14 in Philadelphia, with the Marlins hosting the Milwaukee Brewers for a weekend series from Sept. 15-17. But after the retractable roof at Marlins Park sustained damage from Irma, Milwaukee’s Miller Park hosted the series with limited staff, reduced seating options and bargain-basement ticket prices. The Tampa Bay Rays returned home to Tropicana Field for a weekend series with the Boston Red Sox on Sept. 15-17 after a scheduled home series against the New York Yankees was moved to New York’s Citi Field (home of the Mets) in the days after Irma. Tropicana Field suffered minor damage from the hurricane.
  • The Atlanta Braves, which hosted the Marlins for a four-game series beginning Sept. 7, offered free tickets to all Florida residents and anyone from counties under evacuation on the Georgia and South Carolina coasts. “We hope we can help take their mind off the storm for a few hours,” said Derek Schiller, the Braves president of business.
  • As Sports on Earth reported, “all the major [college football] programs in Florida … understandably erred on the side of caution.” The University of Florida, after originally moving up the start time for its game against Northern California, canceled after Interstate 75 in Gainesville became a primary travel route for evacuees, and university officials didn’t want to add to that traffic burden. “There is a tremendous amount of stress currently on the roads of this state, and the availability of gas, water and other supplies are at critical levels,” Florida athletic director Scott Stricklin told SI.com. “Playing a college football game … would only add to that stress.”
  • The University of Miami, which was supposed to play Arkansas State in Jonesville, Ark., cancelled its game — which created a cynical reaction from some fans on social media, claiming that the Hurricanes used the hurricane as way out of playing an out-of-conference road game. “Very sad to read some of the comments of some football fans and some members of the media believing we had some other motive!” Miami head coach Mark Richt tweeted. Florida State, meanwhile, cancelled its game against Louisiana-Monroe in Tallahassee, with no plans to reschedule. Other Florida colleges and universities canceled their games, too.
  • In Miami-Dade and Broward Counties, Week 3 of high school football was shelved. “In the name of safety, these games locally were called off so everyone can start to prepare for the next five days here in South Florida,” Miami’s CBS-TV affiliate WQAM reported on the Wednesday before Irma struck. “While many of these games may not be made up, right now that is not important. What is vital is that the safety of the families come first.” Similarly, most (if not all) high school football games in Tampa Bay were postponed the week of Sept. 11. Lack of power and lack of practice time both played critical roles in that determination. “It was coming down to a safety issue in football,” Hillsborough County athletic director Lanness Robinson told the Tampa Bay Times. “Teams would have had a day of practice before playing a game, and we didn’t want to risk injury with so little time to prepare.”

All of this comes on the heels of Florida Gov. Rick Scott announcing that about 60.7 million tourists visited the state between January and June — a four percent increase over 2016 and a new all-time record for a six-month period. In all of 2016, an estimated 112 million people visited the Sunshine State.

Considering the long road of recovery that’s ahead in some Florida communities, it could be tough for the state to come close to those numbers in the second half of 2017.

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