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Toronto Raptors set for long-term stay at Amalie Arena

NBA basketball team the Toronto Raptors have announced they will stay in Tampa for the remainder of the 2020-21 season, while plans are in place to return fans to their temporary Amalie Arena home.

The Raptors in November 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.

With the NBA set to confirm the schedule for the second half of the season, the Raptors yesterday (Thursday) announced that due to the ongoing border restrictions and being mindful of public safety measures in Canada, they will continue to play home games at Amalie Arena.

“Florida has been really welcoming to us and we’re so grateful for the hospitality we’ve found in Tampa and at Amalie – we’re living in a city of champions, and we intend to carry on the tradition of winning for our new friends and fans here,” said Raptors president Masai Ujiri. 

“But home is where the heart is, and our hearts are in Toronto. We think often of our fans, of our Scotiabank Arena family, and all those we are missing back home, and we can’t wait until we can all be together again.”

The Raptors haven’t played at Scotiabank Arena since February 28, 2020, and if they make it to postseason they will have played at least 100 games outside of Toronto. In December, the Raptors announced plans to admit up to 3,800 fans for the initial regular season games at Amalie Arena.

The Raptors played four games at this capacity before Vinik Sports Group, which owns NHL ice hockey team Tampa Bay Lightning and manages Amalie Arena, announced on January 9 that the venue would be shut to fans due to a spike in COVID-19 cases and positivity rates.

This has also meant that the Lightning has played its first six home games of the new NHL season without fans. However, the Tampa Bay Times reports that a limited number of family and friends will be permitted entry, commencing from the Raptors’ game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday and the Lightning’s meeting with the Florida Panthers on Monday.

Vinik Sports Group’s plan is said to be for this to continue through March 2 with a view to a return to the 3,800-capacity in mid-March. “We believe this prudent opening of Amalie Arena for NHL and NBA games will allow us to grant access to our season ticket members and other fans after March 2,” said Vinik Sports Group.

“However, as previously stated, because of the fluidities of the pandemic, we are going to reserve the right to review COVID-19 trends over the coming weeks before making any final decisions regarding the return of hockey and basketball fans to the facility.

“The health, safety and well-being of our players, staff and guests will continue to remain at the forefront in our decision-making processes while we navigate this difficult time.”

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