NBA basketball team the Toronto Raptors has announced plans to admit up to 3,800 fans for the initial regular season games at its temporary home, Tampa’s Amalie Arena.

The Raptors last month decided they would begin their 2020-21 season in Florida amid travel-related COVID-19 restrictions in Canada. The Raptors had sought to open the season at their Scotiabank Arena home in Toronto and worked with public health officials at local, provincial and federal level to make this possible.

However, Raptors president Masai Ujiri said that while the talks were productive, the public health situation in Canada and the “urgent need” to determine where the team would play led to the decision to head to Amalie Arena. The venue has a capacity of 20,500 and serves as the home of NHL ice hockey team Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Raptors yesterday (Tuesday) announced plans to host a limited number of fans beginning with their preseason game against the Miami Heat on Friday. Tickets for the preseason game and the first 11 regular season games will go on sale tomorrow for use via mobile devices only.

The Raptors said fan attendance protocols will involve extensive health and safety measures, including socially distanced seat availability. There will be fewer than 3,200 seats available for the preseason game, and 3,800 seats for regular season games. There will be no floor seats and no seats sold within 30 feet of the court.

Additional measures include: all fans two years of age or older being required to wear a mask for the duration of their time within the venue; enhanced surface and air disinfection systems; physical distancing in the stands and while navigating the venue; a healthy survey screening for all guests as they enter the facility; cashless payments in the parking lot and for food and beverage services; and no bags being allowed for all Raptors games at the arena.

“In these unique and challenging times, the Raptors are grateful to be able to work closely with the NBA, the Lightning organisation and local public health officials to create a safe opportunity for a limited number of fans to take in games,” said Tom McDonald, vice-president of tickets sales and service for the team’s ownership group, MLSE.

“As the Raptors call Tampa home for the start of the NBA season, the team looks forward to the opportunity to thank the community for their support while continually emphasising the important steps required of all of us for a full return of fans when it is safe to do so.”

Steve Griggs, CEO of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Amalie Arena, added: “Amalie Arena is thrilled to play host to the Raptors and the NBA and we are proud of our partnerships with local public health agencies that allows a safe return to live events.

“The safety of our guests and our community is our top priority and these rigorous health and safety protocols have been put in place to ensure that our fans’ experience at Amalie Arena is both safe and enjoyable. We look forward to a safe and successful stay in Tampa for the Raptors.”

With the NBA coming to town, Tampa is also seeking wider benefits from the Raptors’ stay, along with proving Amalie Arena is a safe location for events during COVID-19. Santiago Corrada of Visit Tampa Bay told local broadcaster Fox 13: “The restaurants down there, the retail, the attractions, might see some economic impact.

“We have been marketing in Miami. We have been marketing in other parts of the state where people would take a number of hours to get here, and would stay overnight.”

Image: Miosotis Jade/CC BY-SA 4.0/Edited for size