Major venues open their doors to fans
Can the canned cheers and applause. Real fans are back.
After being closed for almost a full year, major stadiums and arenas that can hold 10,000 or more people have been given the green light by Governor Andrew Cuomo to reopen, but with some limitations, including Department of Health approval.
“While we continue to fight COVID on multiple fronts, we must also get this economy reopened intelligently and in a balanced way,” Cuomo said. “Live sports and entertainment have long been ingrained in the fabric of New York and the inability to hold events has only added to the isolation we have all felt at the hands of this virus. Thankfully, our pilot program to reopen Buffalo Bills games to fans was an unparalleled success and now we are taking that model and expanding it to other large venues across the state to not only reinvigorate local economies, but also help bring some fun and joy back into people’s lives as safely as possible.”
In order to reopen venues to professional sports, sites must institute a 10 percent capacity limit in arenas and stadiums, ensure all staff and spectators receive a negative COVID-19 PCR test within 72 hours of the event and mandate face coverings, social distancing and temperature checks for all those in attendance. In addition, assigned, socially distanced seating will be mandated, contact information is to be collected from all those in attendance to help inform contact tracing efforts, enhanced air filtration, ventilation and purification standards will be in place and venues are to ensure retail, food services and athletic activities abide by all state-issued guidance.
On Feb. 23, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, the New York Islanders and Nassau Coliseum management announced the building will welcome Islanders season ticket members starting on March 18. With a hockey capacity of 13,900, it means 1,390 will be the maximum attendance. This will be the last season the Islanders will play at the arena in which they won four Stanley Cups. Next season they are expected to play at the UBS Arena at Belmont Park.
“I’m thrilled that Islanders fans will be able to rock the Barn next month. This is a big step towards our safe return to normal, and the reopening of the Coliseum means so much for Nassau,” Curran said in a statement. “We know virus risk is dramatically reduced with precautions in place and rules being followed. I’m confident that we’re ready to do this safely and smoothly and hope we can soon further increase the number of fans in the stands.”
Madison Square Garden hosted about 2,000 fans as the Knicks lost to Golden State on Feb. 23.
“Our goal is to fill Madison Square Garden, but until we can do that, we’re going to do everything we can to bring as many people back as possible—safely and enjoyably,” David Hopkinson, MSG Sports executive vice president and president of Team Business Operations said in a press release. “We started with an exclusive offer for our season ticket members and are now thrilled we can provide the general public the opportunity to join us in cheering on the Knicks.”
Before attendees can enter Madison Square Garden, they will need to complete a three-step health screening process. For COVID-19 testing, MSG Sports has teamed up with two PCR testing providers, Northwell Health-GoHealth Urgent Care and Vault Health, to provide attendees with an additional urgent care and at-home option to fulfill the state’s pre-game testing requirements.
“We realize that the state’s COVID-19 testing requirements means our fans have to do more to prepare for their visit to The Garden,” Hopkinson said. “We know there are a lot of ways to get tested—our partnerships with Northwell Health-GoHealth Urgent Care and Vault are designed to provide additional options that hopefully makes things a little easier. We appreciate our fans willingness to do what it takes to cheer on their team.”
The resurgent Nets played before 300 fans at the Barclays Center on Feb. 23, less than the 1,900 at 10 percent capacity.
“We are the first venue in the country to include COVID-19 testing before each game for all attendees as an added benefit in the ticket price,” said Rachael Lewis, director of Communications at BSE Global. “The logistical challenges involved are considerable and warrant a phased approach to putting tickets on sale. We intend to significantly ramp up our testing and seating capacity immediately after the All-Star Break to the 10 percent. Individual tickets for the second half of the season will go on sale to season ticket holders and the general public shortly after the NBA announces the schedule for the remainder of the season.”
The Long Island Nets also used the Nassau Coliseum before the pandemic, but are continuing to play in the NBA G League’s 2021 season at ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando. It is not known when they’ll return to Nassau County.
-Anthony Murray also contributed to this story
The Music Angle
What about musicians and indoor arenas? Anton Media Group reached out to several touring musicians. Evie Sands, a 74-year-old singer-songwriter and musician whose career began in the 1960s, said in an email, “Whatever the venue size, [10 percent] is still a practically empty house. It’s not financially feasible, especially if on the road. The expense of touring is challenging enough even without capacity restrictions. Not good for venues either. It’s different for professional athletes. They have contracts with large guarantees, with or without public attendance.”
“I think it’s going to be a while for arenas to open [for musicians],” New York City singer-songwriter Willie Nile said. “Expenses to operate those venues are prohibitive unless there’s enough people to fill the seats. Maybe in 2022 we can hope to see that start to happen. I know that musicians and fans alike miss live music and hopefully with the vaccine and masks and proper distancing, doors can open sooner than later in all size venues.”
—Dave Gil de Rubio