March 13, 2020
By Lynn Burkhead
On a day in history that many Americans will remember for the rest of their lives, the world of college and professional sports ostensibly shut down for the foreseeable future on Thursday, March 12, 2020.
And before it was all over, the outdoors world saw effects of the growing coronavirus crisis impact its schedule, too.
The repercussions on the sporting world came with a rapid fire list of mounting suspensions and closures that seemed to grow by the half-hour. In quick succession, several conferences cancelled their basketball tournaments and school’s like Ohio State and Michigan announced that there would be no spring football game.
By early afternoon, the NCAA followed suit and cancelled the men’s and women’s March Madness basketball tournaments, the men’s and women’s College World Series, and all other collegiate spring sports as well.
Swept up in the growing COVID-19 crisis, the NBA, the NHL, MLS, and MLB have all suspended their seasons for now. And the world of golf has scutled a month’s worth of golf tournaments including the Masters, the year’s first major championship.
NRA calls off show
By day’s end, the outdoors world would be affected, too. Late on Thursday evening, the NRA made the stunning announcement that it was cancelling its annual meetings scheduled for next month in Nashville.
"With our 149th Annual Meeting scheduled for next month in Nashville, we realize many NRA members and meeting guests have questions about the coronavirus (COVID-19) and the potential impact on our convention,” the organization said in a statement on its website.
"We have been closely monitoring updates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Tennessee Department of Health. In fact, earlier today, a state of emergency was declared in Tennessee.
"Therefore, we have reluctantly decided to cancel this year’s NRA Annual Meeting, planned for April 16 – 19 in Nashville. This applies to all events and scheduled programs, including the NRA-ILA Forum. We sincerely regret the need for this action, particularly for our many loyal members who join us for this annual celebration of the NRA and our constitutional freedoms. Details regarding a rescheduled NRA Members’ Meeting will be forthcoming.
Under the direction of NRA President Carolyn Meadows, the NRA Board of Directors is working with the Office of the Secretary in relation to board elections, meetings, and the like.
"Please know that we did not reach this decision lightly. We were ultimately guided by our responsibility to help ensure the safety and well-being of our NRA members, guests, and surrounding community.
"Please coordinate directly with airlines or others who have assisted with your travel arrangements. Most companies have announced plans to accommodate travelers dealing with event cancellations.
"Thank you for your understanding and continued support."
The move was a major blow to the organization in a contentious election year in which the debate on second-amendment rights is expected to once again play a major role. And it’s also a blow to the Music City in light of the economic impact that the NRA meetings and expo can deliver to a host city.
How large is that impact? It’s big…and then some. For instance, according to a variety of news reports, the Louisville Convention & Visitor’s Bureau reported that the 2016 NRA meeting in northern Kentucky drew in some 80,000 people and had an economic impact estimated at $53 million.
As a late-spring launching pad for some new products, the NRA meeting cancellation could potentially leave some companies scrambling a bit in a year where supply-chain shipments of components and goods could be impacted by the growing crisis. While it’s too early to tell if supplies of fall hunting gear will be impacted in 2020, that certainly seems to be possible.
In announcing the cancellation of the 149th NRA Annual Meetings, the organization indicated that the convention and exhibits would not be rescheduled and that attention will now turn to the 150th Annual Meetings next year. That gathering is scheduled at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston for May 14-16, 2021.
Major League Bass Fishing impact
Late on Thursday evening, the fishing world saw its first cancellations occur.
That came when Major League Fishing and FLW announced via a joint news release that changes were occurring to their schedules and methods of operation.
"Major League Fishing and FLW announced the suspension of all public gatherings associated with their events through April 12, 2020 in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic," said the release. "The decision was made to safeguard the health and well-being of all involved. Public gatherings include all fan meet-n-greets associated with the Bass Pro Tour, and the attendance of fans and non-essential staff at all FLW tournaments, including weigh-ins.
"Due to the nature of competitive bass fishing, the league will continue to host tournaments for participating anglers. Decisions regarding future events will be made in the coming weeks as the league monitors the situation with COVID-19 under the guidance of medical and public health professionals.
"We’re taking these proactive measures to ensure the health and safety of our anglers, volunteers, fans and staff,” said Jim Wilburn, MLF President and CEO.
"As a unique outdoor sport where competitors have limited interaction, we feel that we can continue to host tournaments under an abundance of caution. Should circumstances change around a particular event, we will alert those competitors and volunteers directly involved with as much notice as possible."
Public appearances of the MLF pros associated with Stages Three and Four of the Bass Pro Tour will not take place. Fans are encouraged to remain home and watch their favorite anglers on MLF NOW! rather than gathering in person.
FLW follows suit
On the FLW front, big changes took place as well as the circuit announced that all weigh-ins would be limited to essential staff and immediate family.
"Considering the breadth and scope of FLW tournaments across the continental U.S.A, the league feels this decision is in the best interest of public health including volunteers, anglers, fans, and staff," the release said, noting that events at Lake Martin, Cherokee Lake, Lake Okeechobee, Lake Havasu, Lake of the Ozarks, Wheeler Lake, and Fort Gibson Lake would be affected in March and early April.
The release also noted: "All weigh-ins associated with Phoenix Bass Fishing League, Abu Garcia College Fishing Presented by YETI, and FLW High School Fishing Presented by Favorite Fishing tournaments held between March 12th and April 12th will also be affected by limited attendance. Only essential staff and immediate family will be able to attend."
"We appreciate the understanding and cooperation of our anglers, sponsors, and fans," said Kathy Fennel, FLW Executive Vice President and General Manager.
"We realize that fan attendance at these weigh-ins is a highlight of our events. However, based on the current understanding of how the COVID-19 is progressing in the United States, we feel everyone’s health and safety must outweigh the inevitable disappointment."
In addition to addressing fan involvement, the release noted that the two professional fishing circuits would continue to assess the impact of coronavirus upon their leagues and heed "advice and mandates set forth by local, state, and national health officials to address the potential impact events will have on competitors, volunteers, and staff. Cancellations or postponements of tournaments and competitions will be announced directly to the registered anglers, school officials, and confirmed volunteers as needed."
Also, on Thursday, the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska announced the first known closure of a hunting season due to the virus scare when it indicated by Facebook post that it was cancelling its two spring turkey hunts.
As other major events loom in the outdoors world and fall hunting seasons begin to grow less distant, the fluid nature of the coronavirus pandemic will almost certainly continue to make news and bring big changes even in the worldd of hunting and fishing.
Stay tuned to Game & Fish for the latest on how the virus is affecting outdoors enthusiasts and what the effects are on schedules, seasons, and events. We’ll bring you the latest as it happens.