Most major sports are going ahead with full or revised schedules in 2021. A handful of global events, including the Olympic Games, are still under a cloud due to the logistical challenges of having participants from all over the world. But barring any unanticipated circumstances–like a mutation capable of evading the vaccine–all signs point to a better year for sports fans in 2021.
Keep reading for a breakdown of how major sports leagues and events are dealing with COVID-19 in 2021 and how you can watch using a VPN.
Status of Major Sports Leagues and Tournaments in 2021
NFL – resumption of normal business. The National Football League was fortunate in that COVID-19 hit American shores a few weeks after Super Bowl LIV. The 2020 season went ahead without any major problems, the most notable change being the suspension of international games in London and Mexico City. Super Bowl LV is set to go ahead as scheduled at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, on February 7. Barring unforeseen circumstances, the 2021 season will begin as scheduled on September 9.
NBA – minor schedule changes. The National Basketball Association was the first of the big four sports leagues to postpone competition during COVID-19, and the shortened season was eventually completed in the Orlando hub in October 2020, four months later than usual. The 2020-21 NBA season began December 22, 2020, and the finals are scheduled for July 8-22, 2021. Notable changes are a shortened schedule (72 regular season games instead of 82) and the fact that the Toronto Raptors are playing home games in Tampa due to the Canadian government’s cross-border travel restrictions.
MLB – resumption of normal business. Major League Baseball was postponed in 2020 without a pitch being thrown, before eventually returning for a shortened 60-game regular season plus an expanded 16-team playoffs. The 2021 season will return to the usual 162-game schedule starting April 1. This will be the final season Cleveland’s team competes as the Indians after the team announced it will change its 106-year-old nickname before the 2022 season. The Toronto Blue Jays are hopeful of returning to their home field by opening day, but it appears likely they will have to begin their season where they ended the last one–just across the U.S.-Canada border at Sahlen Field in Buffalo, New York.
NHL – significant schedule changes. The National Hockey League was hit by COVID-19 right on the verge of the 2019-20 playoffs, and the shortened season was eventually completed in two hubs–Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena and Edmonton’s Rogers Place. The NHL has faced unique challenges during the coronavirus pandemic due to having so many teams north of the U.S.-Canada border. It is holding a shortened 56-game regular season in 2021, with the divisions temporarily realigned to allow all seven Canadian teams to compete in the same division. The playoffs are scheduled to run until July, with the first two rounds to be played under a pure divisional format–again to allow the Canadian teams to play each other rather than deal with the challenges of cross-border travel.
Pro Tennis – minor schedule changes. Tennis was hit harder than any professional sport in 2020, with Wimbledon cancelled for the first time since World War II and the French Open played in the unfamiliar time of September-October, after the U.S. Open. The good news is that all four Grand Slam tournaments are scheduled to go ahead in 2021, beginning with the Australian Open, which will take place three weeks late from February 8-21 to allow players to travel to and complete two weeks of quarantine in the country and participate in warm-up events. With Roger Federer to turn 40 this year and Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic to turn 35 and 34 respectively, this may be the last year tennis fans get to see all of ‘the Big Three’ in action.
PGA Tour Golf – significant schedule changes. Because of rescheduling during the 2019-20 season, six major championships are being held in the 2020-21 season–including two editions of the U.S. Open and Masters tournament. After the 2020 Masters was postponed to November 2020, it will return in its usual timeslot in April 2021–signalling that everything is back to normal in the golf world. The PGA Tour is calling this season a ‘super season’ due to the packed schedule of major events. The Tour’s Florida swing sees the new season’s most dramatic overhaul with the Honda Classic moving to March 18-21, behind The Players Championship, and the Valspar Championship relocated to the first week of May.
UFC – almost business as usual. The Ultimate Fighting Championship was the first sport to return after the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, resuming in May 2020 after an 8-week shutdown. It devised the most creative workaround to the virus, hosting several events at virus-free Fight Island, AKA Yas Island, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. The UFC has confirmed three events at Fight Island in January, including the highly anticipated lightweight rematch between the legendary Conor McGregor and another former champion, Dustin Poirier. It anticipates a regular schedule in 2021, with events already planned for every weekend through March.
English Premier League – business as usual. After somehow managing to complete a full season in 2019-20, the 2020-21 English Premier League season begun in full swing in September 2020, only a few weeks behind the usual schedule. With Britain badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic, it’s unlikely there will be anything more than limited attendance at games this season. But fans of the EPL in America will just be thrilled the season is going ahead in full.
College sports – significantly compromised. College sports have been hard hit since the beginning of the pandemic due to campuses remaining largely shuttered. The college football and college basketball seasons have both gone ahead, but frequent postponements and cancellations of games. NCAA men’s basketball’s March Madness is scheduled to take place at the usual time, culminating with the Final Four in Indianapolis on April 3 and 5.
Tokyo Olympics – still no certainty. Despite being rescheduled for 2021, this year’s Olympic Games will still be referred to as Tokyo 2020 if–and it’s a big ‘if’–it actually goes ahead. Tokyo 2020 is currently scheduled to begin on July 23, 2021, almost a year to the day after its original date. Given that most of the countries of the world have yet to begin vaccine programs (as of January 2021), it remains to be seen whether the Summer Olympics will be viable by July.
Why You Need a VPN to Watch Live Sports
VPN stands for virtual private network, but the ‘V’ could just as easily stand for ‘versatile’. That’s because a top VPN provider can get you around virtually any hurdle associated with watching live sports. Don’t want the stream to shut off right in the middle of the big fight / big race / big game? Here’s how a VPN can help.
- VPNs get you around sports blackouts. Ever switched on the TV hoping to see the big game, only to find yourself blocked? A sports blackout is when a sports event is not aired in a particular city because of a contractual agreement between the sports league and the cable channels. Even if you use a streaming service to watch sports, you may still find yourself the victim of a blackout. Fortunately, a VPN solves this problem. Next time you suffer from a sports blackout, just use your VPN to log onto a server in a different city and stream the big game live.
- VPNs let you watch live sports from anywhere. If you’re the sort of person that likes watching sports from overseas, such as European soccer or Tour de France cycling, then a VPN is essential. Many sports are only accessible in America using untrustworthy illegal streams that might spread malware or viruses on your device. A VPN gets around geo-blocking restrictions, giving you the option of logging onto a foreign server and accessing a legitimate stream at the source.
- VPNs let you watch at high speed. There’s only one way to watch live sports, and that’s in ultra high-definition. To watch anything in ultra HD, you need download speeds of at least 25Mbps (but preferably 50Mbps). Internet service providers might promise to deliver high speeds, but they often don’t due to a thing known as throttling – a measure used to regulate network traffic. Worst of all, the ISPs are most likely to throttle when traffic is at its highest, i.e. during the big game. Thankfully, the best VPNs get around this problem by guaranteeing high speeds at all times.