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Baseball glove, ball and N95 respirator mask.

The Return of Professional Sports with COVID-19 Still Lingering

Thursday, April 1st, marked the return of major league baseball across the country. Last year a shortened season due to COVID-19 and cardboard cut-out fans in the stands made for an unusual season. The National League Championship Series and World Series were a test, allowing a limited number of fans at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.

This year right from opening day, stadiums will have live fans in the stands. Some stadiums will allow 100% attendance, while others will have a reduced number of spectators. While MLB hasn’t provided mandates like masks, temperature checks, proof of a negative COVID-19 test, or proof of vaccine, each team must have a stadium plan that complies with local and state public health authorities. This means some teams may have full stadiums while others only have a percent of fans allowed to attend games.

Increasingly decisions about proof of vaccination and proof of negative COVID-19 tests are being made at state and local levels. What’s true about COVID-19 protocols in Texas may not be true in Florida or New York. Your employer may require you to be fully vaccinated, while others may not. When you book a flight, your airline may require you to show proof of vaccination. When attending a baseball game or other sporting event, check with your local or state authorities and the team to see what they require before showing up at the stadium.

At the Texas Rangers’ home opener, they played the Toronto Blue Jays (losing 6-2 to Toronto) with a full capacity stadium (approximately 40,000 fans). Apart from two exhibition games held before the season started, these were the only games where 100% fan capacity was permitted. As Texas Governor Greg Abbott eliminated the mask mandate across Texas, the stadium has opted to require fans to wear a mask, except while eating and drinking.

This season the Toronto Blue Jays won’t be hosting home games in Toronto due to the COVID-19 protocols and closed U.S.-Canadian border. Instead, the Blue Jays will be playing home games in TD Ballpark in Dunedin, Florida, potentially moving to Buffalo, New York in June, to escape Florida’s heat. MLB is hoping that the team will return to Toronto to play home games in the second half of the season. This decision will depend on whether the Canadian government will allow this.

Other Professional Sports Protocols

Other sports are handling COVID-19 a little differently. In the NBA, 21 of 30 teams will now allow fans in arenas to watch games. The number of fans depends on the team and the arena capacity. Where fans are allowed at games, the capacity ranges from 5-35%.

Washington Wizards, Sacramento Kings, Portland Trail Blazers, Oklahoma City Thunder, Minneapolis Timberwolves, Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State Warriors and Chicago Bulls are not allowing live fans at games. Many of these cities are currently experiencing COVID-19 spikes. Like baseball, fans are allowed to see the Toronto Raptors, but home games are being played in Tampa, Florida, due to the COVID-19 protocols and closed U.S.- Canadian border. 

In NFL news, Commissioner Roger Goodell signaled last week that he expected all NFL teams to have full stadiums during the 2021 football season. Kicking off September 9, with more Americans being vaccinated, fans returning as spectators is a certainty.

As with other major sports, many of the COVID-19 mandates, like wearing masks, are at the discretion of local and state officials. The NFL will not dictate how many fans can attend live games, leaving it up to the team and the state officials. During the 2020 football season, some teams brought fans back into football stadiums while others didn’t. 

In hockey news, 18 of 24 U.S. NHL teams allowed some fans back in the stands. On the first day of the season, only three teams permitted fans in the stands – Dallas Stars, Florida Panthers and Arizona Coyotes, but as the season continues other teams have allowed fans. Depending on the team, state officials and public health authorities, 3-30% of fans can attend live games. Most teams in the East, West and Central divisions are allowing fans to attend games.

The Anaheim Ducks, Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, San Jose Sharks, and all seven Canadian teams, making up the North division, currently don’t allow any fans inside the arenas. This may change in the future as all teams continue to work with local and state officials, ensuring that fans returning to arenas are done with safety in mind. The NHL is hopeful that the playoffs will start May 8 as expected.

As of Friday, April 9, more than 35% of Americans have received their first vaccination, with 21% fully vaccinated. As more Americans become vaccinated, more fans are expected to return to arenas, stadiums and ballparks across the country. Attending live sporting events is in our near future. Game on!