Oklahoma City Thunder and the Charlotte Hornets will begin their 2020-21 NBA seasons without fans in attendance.
The Thunder had previously detailed plans to have a “limited number of fans and guests” at Chesapeake Energy Arena but the team has now announced that no supporters will be in attendance amid “ongoing and concerning” trends in local COVID-19 cases.
The team’s announcement follows months of collaboration with the arena, the City of Oklahoma City, local health officials and the NBA to explore the possibility of opening the venue at reduced seating capacity.
The Thunder, together with Chesapeake Energy Arena’s management company ASM Global, last month announced a raft of measures to welcome fans back safely, including six-foot seating distance between groups of guests, face masks, contactless and self-service ticket scanning and concession purchases, and strict hygiene and disinfecting procedures throughout the building.
However, the team has reversed course ahead of the start of the new season on December 22. The Thunder will monitor and evaluate the situation over the coming weeks before determining when fans will be able to attend games.
Meanwhile, the Hornets will join the Thunder in having no fans for the start of the season, with games at Spectrum Center to be held behind closed doors. The Hornets consulted with state and local government officials before reaching their decision.
The Hornets will continue to work with health officials and the NBA on a plan for the eventual return of fans to Spectrum Center.
The Thunder and the Hornets join the Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks in confirming plans to start the season without fans in attendance. Last week, the Utah Jazz detailed plans to open its Vivint Arena at a reduced seating capacity, with a number of safety measures and protocols to be put in place.
The NBA concluded its 2019-20 season at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex in Florida, with all games played on a single campus in a ‘bubble’ environment. Teams are able to play at their home arenas for the new season and make their own decisions regarding fan attendance.