2020 was a wild year for sports. Many events were canceled altogether or postponed, meaning we were spoiled when many sporting leagues resumed or started their seasons in the fall.
2021 is shaping up to look a bit more back to normal (stress on the “bit”). Of course, only time will tell if the events go on as planned and if fans will be in attendance.
For example, the NBA has already taken steps to prevent more positive tests and thinning rosters by eliminating non-team guests in road hotels, shortening pregame meetings, and canceling high-fives.
Here’s a look at big sporting events for the year so you can plan your coverage accordingly.
⛷️ Jan. 29-31: X Games Aspen
The Winter X Games in Aspen, Colo., will kick off on Friday, Jan. 29, with the Women’s Snowboard Slopestyle, Ski Big Air, Men’s Ski SuperPipe, and more. Throughout the weekend, other events will include Ski Slopestyle, Snowboard Big Air, and Knuckle Huck for both snowboard and ski. This year’s pared-down event will not include motocross competitions. Even so, nearly 100 of the top snow-sport athletes will be competing, and although the event will be closed to the public, a new virtual experience will be available that will be immersive and interactive.
🏈 Feb. 7: Super Bowl LV
It’s hard to believe the Kansas City vs. San Francisco game was only a year ago – it feels like a decade has passed since then. After beginning its season in the fall and hitting a few COVID-related speedbumps, the NFL is on track to hold Super Bowl LV on time in February. This year’s Big Game will be played at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., with The Weeknd headlining the halftime show. It’s bound to be an exciting game when Tom Brady leads the Tampa Bay Buccaneers against the defending champs, the Kansas City Chiefs, led by superstar quarterback Patrick Mahomes. The stadium will welcome 22,000 fans, including 7,500 vaccinated health care workers. Bleacher Report described the upcoming game as a “sick matchup” and noted that the Chiefs are the favorite.
🏎️ Feb. 14: Daytona 500
NASCAR was one of the first sporting events to welcome back fans in 2020 when 30,000 people attended its All-Star race in July. Hoping to keep that momentum going in the new year, the Daytona 500, the “Great American Race,” is scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 14. In terms of a crowd, a limited number of fans will be able to attend the race and re-seating will be implemented to ensure social distancing.
🏀 March 14 – April 5: March Madness
The NCAA Tournament was one of the earliest sporting events to be canceled in 2020. This year, 68 teams will make up the field vying to reach the National Championship on April 5. The NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee recently announced that it will hold the entire tournament in one geographic area, as opposed to games being played across the country. After the NBA played a successful season in a “bubble,” college basketball will follow suit and play the post-season tournament in and around Indianapolis. So far, a “limited number of family members” will be allowed at the games. A decision about fans has not been made. Indiana will also host the Division II (Evansville) and Division III (Fort Wayne) men’s tournaments.
⛳ April 8-11: Masters
2021 will mark the 85th edition of the Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia. As the 2020 event was moved to November and played without fans, ticket holders of record are guaranteed the same tickets for the 2021 Tournament. Even so, there will still be only a limited number of fans on site. So far, Tiger Woods is expected to be back in action for the Masters after recovering from his fifth back surgery. But maybe the bigger question is after breaking scoring records to claim the Green Jacket in November, will Dustin Johnson prevail for the second time in less than a year?
Here are the dates for the other three PGA Majors in 2021:
- PGA Championship: May 20-23, Kiawah Island Golf Resort Ocean Course (Kiawah Island, S.C.)
- U.S. Open: June 17-20, Torrey Pines (South) Golf Course (San Diego)
- Open Championship: July 15-28, Royal St. George’s (Kent, England)
🏇 April 30 – May 1: Kentucky Derby
Churchill Downs will welcome fans – in a limited capacity – to the 2021 Kentucky Derby. Guests with contractual seating will get first dibs on tickets, followed by those who received refunds for the 2020 event. If you’re like me, the horse names are maybe your favorite part of the Derby, and a few good ones mentioned recently as ones to watch include Midnight Bourbon, Life is Good, and All Other 3-Year-Olds.
🏎️ May 30: Indianapolis 500
2021 will mark the 105th Indy 500 race. The Greatest Spectacle in Racing will see 33 drivers traveling 500 miles over the course of 200 laps around the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway. After the 2020 event was postponed until August and did not allow fans, the 2021 race is expected to welcome back at least some spectators. At the time of writing, 21 drivers have already been confirmed for the race.
🏌️♀️ June 3-6: U.S. Women’s Open
USGA will host the 76th annual U.S. Women’s Open at The Olympic Club in San Francisco. South Korea’s A Lim Kim, 25, took home the trophy at the 2020 tournament, which was postponed until December. The six-month delay meant the Women’s Open wasn’t competing with a PGA Tour event, like it would in a normal year. The USGA and several PGA Tour players promoted the hashtag #WomenWorthWatching, something that will hopefully carry over to the 2021 event. With a $5.5 million purse to the winner, it’s the largest prize of any LPGA major.
Here are the dates for the other LPGA majors in 2021:
- ANA Inspiration: April 1-4, Mission Hills C.C. (Rancho Mirage, Calif.)
- Women’s PGA Championship: June 24-27, Atlanta Athletic Club (Johns Creek, Ga.)
- The Evian Championship: July 22-25, Evian Resort G.C. (Evian-les-Bains, France)
- AIG Women’s Open: Aug. 19-22, Carnoustie Golf Links (Carnoustie, Scotland)
🚴 June 26 – July 18: Tour de France
The route for the 108th Tour de France will kick off in Brittany. This year’s event will see the return of first-week individual time trials, which will give an early glimpse at potential leaders. This year will also mark the first time the race has ever featured a double-climb of Mont Ventoux, “The Giant of Provence,” twice in one day. Contenders will race through various landscapes including the coast, mountains, and vineyards.
🎾 June 28 – July 11: Wimbledon
Wimbledon, one of four professional tennis Grand Slam tournaments, will return in 2021. The “holy grail of tennis” is the oldest tennis tournament and the only major played on grass. Depending on the status of the pandemic come June, there are three possible operational scenarios being considered: full capacity, a limited capacity, and a “behind closed doors” tournament closed off to fans. The women’s final will be played on Saturday, July 10, and the men’s final will follow on Sunday, July 11.
🏀 May 22 – July 22: NBA Playoffs & Finals
After completing a successful COVID-free season in the Orlando “bubble” in 2020, the NBA 2020-21 season has been condensed to 72 games (compared to the regular 82 games) from December-July. Teams are deciding on an individual basis whether or not to allow fans at the games and in what capacity. The playoffs, set up in a unique Play-in Tournament structure, will end one day before the kick-off of the Olympic Games in Tokyo.
🏅 July 23 – Aug. 8: Summer Olympics
After the 2020 Summer Olympics were canceled due to COVID-19 concerns, the XXXII Olympiad is pushing ahead in 2021. With less than 200 days until the opening ceremony, it’s still unclear how the International Olympic Committee will pull it off. Despite a recent spike in cases, Thomas Bach, the president of the International Olympic Committee, is still confident that the Games will happen.“There is no plan B,” he said. New sports in 2021 include sport climbing, surfing, skateboarding, and karate. Baseball and softball will also return after being absent since the 2008 games in Beijing.
🏒 Mid-July: Stanley Cup
The 2020-21 season will be the 104th for the NHL. The condensed season began on Jan. 13 and will see teams playing 868 games over 116 days. A divisional realignment means teams will only play opponents in their division during the regular season – necessary as the Canadian border has been closed to nonessential business. The structure will also minimize travel for the players. Decisions on allowing fans will be made by individual teams, based on local ordinances. After the regular season ends on May 8, the top four teams from each division will enter the playoffs, with the Stanley Cup awarded in mid-July. With the new divisions, this season will be interesting because the final showdown won’t necessarily be an East vs. West game. That means the list of potential contenders is a long one.
🎾 Aug. 30 – Sept. 12: U.S. Open
In 2021, the U.S. Open will take place as usual in the late summer in New York City at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Some of the younger up-and-coming stars to keep an eye on include Coco Gauff, Iga Swiatek, and Felix Auger-Aliassime. As ESPN’s D’Arcy Maine explains, “While many of the game’s perennial favorites will likely continue to dominate in the new year, the next crop of superstars is not far behind; the future is quickly becoming the present.” The 2020 men’s singles champion Dominic Thiem and women’s singles champion Naomi Osaka are also expected to return.
🏎️ Oct. 22-24: U.S. Grand Prix (Formula 1)
F1 was one of the first international sports to resume its season in July 2020. In November, Formula 1 released a provisional Grand Prix calendar for 2021. Although the opening Australian Grand Prix has already been postponed to the fall due to coronavirus restrictions in the country, the rest of the schedule is so far intact and will include the U.S. race in Austin, Texas, on Oct. 24 and a final race in Abu Dhabi on Dec. 5. As of now, fans are expected to be welcomed back for the new season.
⚾ Oct. 26 – Nov. 3: World Series
After a condensed 60-game season in 2020, Major League Baseball appears to be on track to begin Spring Training in February and the Regular Season on time. According to SB Nation, “On the ownership side of things, a delay until May has been posited as it would allow additional time for vaccine distribution around the country.” However, a delay isn’t likely to be agreed on by the players, who see other sports completing their seasons as planned without waiting for the vaccine. The regular season is set to begin on April 1 and the World Series is scheduled to begin on Oct. 26, with a potential Game 7 on Nov. 3. But as CBS Sports’ R.J. Anderson explained in December, it’s all subject to change.
🏈 December: NCAA Football Bowl Games
The 2021-22 college football bowl games will begin on Dec. 30 with the Peach Bowl and continue through the weekend. The games will (as of now) take place across the country and lead up to the College Football Playoff National Championship on Jan. 10, 2022, in Indianapolis at Lucas Oil Stadium. We’ll see if Alabama can claim their 14th national championship, after defeating Ohio State 52-24 in the 2020-21 championship.
🎮 Multiple Dates: Esports Tournaments
With everyone stuck at home for the past year, esports viewing has exploded – Twitch alone reported more than 1.7 billion hours of watch-time in December. South Korea’s DAMWON Gaming is an early favorite to take the League of Legends World Championship again in 2021. Check out the eSportsGuide event calendar for a look at upcoming tournaments and their prize amounts.
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Rocky Parker is the manager of Audience Relations at PR Newswire. Check out her previous posts for Beyond Bylines. When she’s not working, Rocky typically can be found cooking, binge-watching a new show, or playing with her puppy, Hudson.