When you think of data being applied to sports the first thing that comes to mind probably isn’t weather. But with Coronavirus forcing sports (specifically those played outdoors) into different seasons than they’re traditionally accustomed to, weather has become an increasingly critical part of the calculus in determining if, how, and when certain sports will be able to return when the effects of COVID-19 begin to subside.
While you may not have heard of ClimaCell, which their Founder and CEO, Shimon Elkabetz describes as the “SpaceX of weather,” has been helping some of the world’s largest and most prominent companies such as JetBlue, Ford, and Uber use weather data to make critical decisions about their businesses for several years now. Whether we realize it or not, weather affects everything from when a plane can safely de-ice its wings to when food delivery orders or ride requests will suddenly spike. When it comes to sports, the weather doesn’t just determine if and when a game can be played but how tickets are priced, what kinds of food and beverage items are offered for sale, etc.
“There are several elements at play in respect to how weather impacts sports in general including athlete performance, spectator safety, and commerce,” said Elkabetz.
When it comes to which sports are going to be most affected by the shifting of seasons, Elkabetz added “I think sports like tennis and baseball are more sensitive to playing in climates they’re not accustomed to whereas other outdoor sports like soccer and football tend to be less sensitive and more adaptable when it comes to weather.”
ClimaCell, which has been helping sports clients such as the New England Patriots and the US Open tennis tournament for several years, is being leaned on more than ever to help determine when and how these entities can resume play.
“It’s a dynamic situation so it’s hard to figure out what’s doable and what’s not,” said Elkabetz. One thing that makes the notion of resuming sports altogether an even more complicated proposition is whether fans will able to be in attendance. While the prevailing assumption is that being able to hold sporting events where fans are present won’t be possible until 2021 due largely to safety reasons but when you add in the variable of weather volatility into the mix it becomes even less realistic according to Elkabetz. “Having fans makes the notion of restarting more complex because if you want to play a truncated schedule, it’s almost impossible when add fans into the mix. If, for example you have a tennis match or a baseball game with a lot of weather-related starts and stops, the idea of resuming a game or match already in progress becomes a lot more complicated with fans.”
Not only will the shifting of sports into different seasons affect the locale and the atmosphere of sports if and when they return but fans can also expect to see an impact on the on-field product. Elkabetz specifically cited sports like NASCAR and MotoGP as being particularly susceptible to the shifting of the seasons because holding something like a motor vehicle race during a time with more precipitation can lead to a dramatically different product on the track.
Though he wasn’t at liberty to name names, suffice it to say that the “powers that be” from many of the leagues who will be particularly impacted have consulted Elkabetz and ClimaCell about the logistics of resuming. If and when that will happen is still an open question but the old adage uttered by Kevin Costner in “Bull Durham” will likely ring even truer during the eventual resumption of play. “Sometimes you win, sometimes, you lose, and sometimes it rains.” Most of us will be praying for sunshine.