The WWE isn’t the only sports (or sports-entertainment) organization that can theoretically head over to Florida during this coronavirus pandemic.
As outlined in an April 9th memo by the office of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, the “essential services” aspect of the stay-at-home order now includes “employees at a professional sports and media production with a national audience — including any athletes, entertainers, production team, executive team, media team and any others necessary to facilitate including services supporting such production — only if the location is closed to the general public.”
Why in the world would sports behind closed doors be considered an essential service in Florida when it is decidedly not essential virtually everywhere else? A spokesperson from DeSantis’ office told ESPN that it’s “because they are critical to Florida’s economy.”
As for how this impacts the UFC, “the memo does not specify specific sports, as long as the event location is closed to the general public.”
Florida has quickly become one of the hotspots for COVID-19 cases in the United States. As of end of day April 13th, there are more than 21,000 confirmed positive tests for the virus, which is 8th most in the country. DeSantis only issued a statewide “stay at home” order on April 1st, several days later than many other states. He’s also come under fire for considering churches and other places of worship as “essential” and thus can remain open to the public.
Interestingly enough, Florida was reportedly one of the states under consideration for hosting UFC 249 after New York was no longer viable. Ultimately, the promotion went to Tachi Palace in California, only for Disney and ESPN to shut those ambitions down. California Governor Gavin Newsom was reportedly involved in the card’s postponement.
We do not know when the UFC’s schedule will resume service, but Dana White has insisted that they’ll be the first sport up and running during the pandemic. He’ll presumably have to get the green light from ESPN, as the company’s official statement on UFC 249 included this line:
“Nobody wants to see sports return more than we do, but we didn’t feel this was the right time for a variety of reasons.”
Not that descending upon one of the regions hardest hit by coronavirus is particularly advisable at the moment, but these latest guidelines certainly present the UFC (and other promotions) the opportunity to run closed-door shows in the Sunshine State.