COVID Solution: Bring the Entire NFL Season to Hawaii

Update: Hawaii is experiencing increasing COVID rates due to poor planning, inconsistent enforcement of rules, lack of testing/monitoring of arriving visitors, and community spread through public gatherings. The number of cases is still low compared to the mainland US and can be controlled with strong leadership and decisive action by local officials.

Aloha NFL Commissioner Goodell and NFL Team Owners,

You have a big problem and I have a solution

Hawaii has become one of the only nearly COVID free places in the world. Since the start, 31 people have died and 3,500 (as of 8/10/2020) cases have been confirmed out of 1.4 million residents. During the lockdown period, Honolulu — the most densely populated area — has had no new cases in more than a week.

Stopping the virus has come at a heavy price because Hawaii’s politicians made the difficult decision to close the islands to tourism — our primary source of revenue. As the Washington Post wrote yesterday, “Hawaii isn’t messing around with quarantines”. Their action has saved countless lives but it has endangered entire livelihoods as unemployment nears 50%, next year’s state budget projects huge shortfalls, the service industry is at the brink of collapse, and all state workers including police, firefighters, EMTs, and teachers face 20% pay reductions.

2019 Sold Out Cowboys/Rams Preseason Game at Aloha Stadium

Professional sports leagues are grappling with the complexity of how to run their seasons. How are players going to be tested, re-tested, and quarantined for positive tests? If players have exposed teammates, will the rest of the team be allowed to play? How do you hold practice without exposing players? Can players see their families? What if an athlete’s family member tests positive? How will some teams be advantaged and others disadvantaged by health regulations in different parts of the country? Nobody has the answers to these questions!

The NFL generates more than $8,000,000,000 in revenue each season and has just over 4 months to figure out how to schedule, safely hold, and televise 512 regular season games between 32 teams from different cities. The bulk of this money comes from network broadcast rights and TV advertising. A game shown on TV can be played anywhere in the world.

Here is a pretty simple solution. Bring the entire NFL to Hawaii.

If political officials agree with the NFL to continue limiting visitors, Hawaii’s new COVID cases will remain at or near 0 per day. This means that NFL players can conduct normal activities with their teammates, coaches, trainers, family members, fans, and other teams with very minimal risk of COVID exposure. Aloha Stadium can even be filled with screaming fans for every game.

Hawaii already has some of the strictest quarantine rules in the world. Visitors are issued single use hotel keys and not allowed to leave their rooms for any reason other than emergency medical treatment. Visitors violating the order are arrested, issued $5,000 fines, and taken directly to the airport.

The NFL can work with Hawaii officials to either pre- or post-travel quarantine all members of an NFL team and staff who will be traveling to Hawaii for the duration of the season. Team members’ families who wish to stay with them for the duration of the season can also quarantine. The NFL can arrange private charter flights so that there is no risk of contamination with other people during travel. The UFC has been using this same type of quarantine procedure on a smaller scale for their events.

Sports fans in Hawaii know about getting up early for games. The NFL season for the islands starts at 7:00 AM with many bars opening the doors at 5:30 or 6AM. The schedule for the 2020 NFL Season can be Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday with games held at:

  • 9 am local/3 pm eastern
  • 1 pm local/7 pm eastern
  • 5 pm local/11 pm eastern (late time slot used for West Coast teams)

Note: After daylight savings time ends, these games will shift forward 1 hour for the continental United States. 3pm games become 2pm.

This gives 15 game slots per week which is the same as the normal NFL season with 2 teams on bye-weeks. The NFL already holds games on all of these days of the week during the season, there will just be more teams playing on Thursday and Monday. Impacts of the short week will be mitigated by not having any travel time between games. It’s a 20 minute drive from Aloha Stadium back to any of the team hotels.

NFL fans, many of whom are working from home, will make time to cheer on their team regardless of the timezone. The field is artificial turf and can hold up to multiple games per day. Additional maintenance and facilities staff (we need the jobs!) can be hired to keep the stadium clean and operational. Running back-to-back games is new for football but common for the NCAA conference and national basketball tournament. The double-hitter in major league baseball is a longstanding tradition.

Hawaii has 42,000 vacant hotel rooms and entire hotels have been shuttered. These hotels can be reopened as private hotels for the team, staff, and their families. Conference rooms can be converted into team meeting rooms. Guest rooms can be converted into training rooms and treatment facilities. Food service menus can be changed to meet the NFL players’ dietary needs. The hotel can become the team’s dedicated support facility.

Long-term vacation rental properties are also vacant. Some players and coaches may choose to rent a nearby property for the season.

For conditioning, cross training, rehab, and indoor practice, the Honolulu Convention Center is completely closed and can be easily converted into a world-class athletic training facility (at the NFL’s cost of course). West Coast teams can have weights and other training equipment shipped to Hawaii to outfit the facility that will be shared by all 32 teams. There could also be a pool of free agents to who complete quarantine and train at the NFL facility while standing-by for a team to pick them up.

Honolulu Convention Center

Honolulu has dozens of public outdoor parks than can temporarily be converted to NFL training facilities (again, at the NFL’s expense of course). The temporary loss of access for residents to portions of the parks will be outweighed the NFL’s investments in the facilities including bathrooms, lighting, bleachers, storage structures, seating, and field improvements. Other teams can practice at high school or middle school fields while investing in the improvement of their athletic facilities. Hawaii’s residents will benefits from these improvements for many years to come.

With almost 50% unemployment and no return to the normal 30,000 tourists arriving each day anytime soon, Hawaii needs jobs more than anything. Hosting 32 teams in different hotels will get hotel staff back to work. The teams will need 24/7 catering at hotels and training facilities which creates even more jobs. Having more than 1,600 millionaire athletes staying in Honolulu for 17 weeks will have a trickle down effect to the entire local economy.

Holding 512 games at Aloha Stadium over 17 weeks will require an enormous events staff, concessions, security, transportation, media production, facilities, maintenance, and logistics. All of these are jobs that Hawaii’s citizens are ready and willing to take on.

If a player is injured or contracts COVID, Hawaii has 3 major hospitals including a Level-1 trauma center. If teams need to pickup a free agent, they can either wait 2-weeks for free agents to quarantine or we have local talent ready to step right in.

Hawaii mobbed the meaningless pre-season game last year at Aloha Stadium. Locals will come out in force for the entire NFL season. Some 49,000 fans flocked to Aloha Stadium on Saturday to watch the Dallas Cowboys square off against the L.A. Rams in a highly-anticipated preseason game. It was the first NFL preseason match-up to be played in Hawaii since 1976.

Hawaii already has one of the most comprehensive testing and contract tracing programs of any state. This is one of the reason that small clusters of COVID outbreaks have been quickly identified and contained. Adding the NFL, NFLPA, and individual teams testing and medical resources to this program can create the most proactive testing and health surveillance program in the world.

NFL security can augment Hawaii’s physical and procedural approach to keeping COVID out of the Aloha State. In addition to supporting screening and monitoring of visitors on the islands, the NFL’s relationships with police departments in mainland cities can help screen travelers before they board a flight to Honolulu which is beyond the state’s current capabilities and authorities. The NFL brings some of the most advanced security capabilities of private corporation in the world to help keep the people of Hawaii safe and healthy.

Let’s Do This!!!

Hawaii can save the NFL season and the NFL can save Hawaii’s economy with a win-win solution that is safe for everyone. This would be a huge undertaking but it is a realistic and viable way to play the full season.

Mahalo for your time.

P.S. Did I mention it will be 82 degrees and sunny for every game?

David Riedman is a second year Ph.D. student at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa and an avid NFL fan. On twitter @david_riedman

Homeland Security Researcher at the Naval Postgraduate School and Ph.D. student at University of Hawai’i