New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has announced that venues with a capacity of 10,000 or more will be permitted to stage events with a limited number of spectators from February 23, paving the way for the state’s sports teams to welcome fans back.

The announcement comes on the back of a successful fan pilot programme involving the Buffalo Bills NFL American football team, which welcomed more than 6,000 spectators for its game against the Indianapolis Colts last month.

Venues and events in the state of New York will be required to follow similar guidelines to those in place for the Bills game. Department of Health approval will be required, with a 10% capacity limit to be put in place along with testing requirements, mandatory face coverings, temperature checks and socially distanced seating.

All staff and spectators at venues will be required to receive a negative COVID-19 PCR test within 72 hours of the event. Fans’ contact information will also be collected to support contact tracing efforts.

Brooklyn’s Barclays Center has already been approved to reopen on February 23 for the NBA basketball game between the Brooklyn Nets and the Sacramento Kings. With capacity limited to 10%, around 1,700 fans will initially be allowed at the arena.

Madison Square Garden, home of the NBA’s New York Knicks and NHL ice hockey team the New York Rangers, also welcomed Governor Cuomo’s announcement. The Garden has detailed plans to host around 2,000 fans at every game, beginning with the Knicks’ game against the Golden State Warriors on February 23 and the Rangers’ game against the Boston Bruins on February 26.

The announcement would also enable fans to return to Yankee Stadium and Citi Field, the respective homes of Major League Baseball teams the New York Yankees and New York Mets. The 2021 MLB season is due to get underway on April 1.

Governor Cuomo said: “While we continue to fight COVID on multiple fronts, we must also get this economy reopened intelligently and in a balanced way.

“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 programme 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.”

John Abbamondi, chief executive of BSE Global, which operates Barclays Center, added: “Thank you to Governor Cuomo and his team at the Department of Health for collaborating with us in creating a robust health and safety plan that allows fans to return to our arena.

“The Governor has played a tremendous role in getting New York businesses back on their feet and we are proud to announce that for the remainder of the season we are donating a portion of ticket proceeds to support vaccination efforts here in Brooklyn. We would also like to thank our fans for their support this season and we are looking forward to bringing their energy back to Barclays Center.”

Yankee Stadium is currently being used as a COVID-19 vaccination centre. The site is reserved for Bronx residents by appointment only.

Image: Ajay Suresh/CC BY 2.0/Edited for size