Future of sports photography in a COVID-19 world

Abbie Parr and Mark Blinch join Living Room Newsroom to discuss the challenges facing sports photographers.

photographers on the sidelines of an NFL game
Abbie Parr (holding left camera) shooting an NFL game between the Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles. 

Sports photojournalists in North America are anxious to get back to work.

“I’m just dying to get back out there and shoot anything I can,” said Abbie Parr, a freelance sports photographer who has shot for Major League Soccer (MLS), the National Hockey League (NHL), the National Basketball Association (NBA) and more. “Not having sports for the last three months has really shown how great it is at bringing people together.”

Many other sports photographers echo this sentiment, and a number of them could be back on the sidelines soon.

MLS and NBA have both announced their intent to resume play in Orlando, FL. The two major sports leagues have set tentative return dates of July 8 and 31, respectively.

The NHL has also announced a return to play plan, with an expected return date of July 30. Games will be held in two hub cities, located in Edmonton and Toronto.

Teams are expected to hold training camps starting July 10, which should last around two weeks, the usual length of a pre-season training camp.

Across the Atlantic, European soccer leagues have already resumed, with the German Bundesliga being the first to accomplish a successful return.  

A photo of Borussia Dortmund’s star forward Erling Haland scoring the first goal in the league’s first game back and performing a social distancing celebration with his teammates was widely shared.

Other unique photos taken at the event include a referee wiping a soccer ball with sanitizing wipes and teammates sitting apart from each other on the bench to comply with social distancing rules.

Fans should expect to see more shots like this, but access to soccer games in Europe has been limited for photographers. “Only the Getty Images and team photographers have been allowed to the games,” Parr said.

It remains to be seen whether North American major sports leagues will implement similar restrictions on the number of photojournalists allowed at games and what health measures will be in place to keep them safe.

“When the NBA returns to Disney World, photographers could be subject to the same social distancing rules as the players,” Parr said.

Mark Blinch, a seasoned photographer who works for the Toronto Maple Leafs as well as Getty Images, thinks there could be changes to restrictions on sports photographers.

“Shooting positions that are close to the athletes could be reduced or eliminated until there is a proper vaccine or treatment for COVID-19,” said Blinch. “My hope is that this doesn’t happen, but I think it may be this way for a while.”

Blinch, who took the world-famous photo of Kawhi Leonard’s series-winning shot against the Philadelphia 76ers in 2019, hopes to return to normal shooting positions as soon as it is safe.

Although he notes that, “with stadiums empty, there will be a lot of extra room for photographers.”

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Posted: Jul 6 2020 3:15 pm
Filed under: COVID-19 Living Room Newsroom Sports