NHL ice hockey team the Edmonton Oilers is seeking to become the first Canadian major league sports franchise to return fans to their arena during COVID-19, while the University of Alabama is hoping to fill Bryant-Denny Stadium for college football games this season.
The Oilers’ parent company, Oilers Entertainment Group (OEG), has submitted a 50-page reopening document to Alberta Health Services (AHS) in an effort to bring fans back to Rogers Place.
The Oilers, along with Canada’s other six NHL teams, are currently competing in a special North Division for the 2020-21 season. Its confidence in its reopening plan stems from its successful staging of the conclusion of the 2019-20 season, alongside fellow Canadian hub city Toronto, along with the hosting of the International Ice Hockey Federation’s 2021 World Junior Championship, which ran from December 25 to January 5.
OEG senior vice-president of communications, Tim Shipton, told the Edmonton Sun newspaper: “We really want to be the first venue in Canada to host fans again. That’s the goal we have set and we feel that is something we can achieve.
“We have started the dialogue with AHS on a ‘Return of Fans’ plan and we are very optimistic. We know we have the technical expertise, the ability and the experience to do it safely. We’re very proud of our hosting of the NHL and World Junior bubbles, but pro sport is simply not sustainable without fans. So we have to find the path back.”
OEG is targeting an initial reopening of Rogers Place at 15% capacity. The arena’s full capacity is just over 18,000. Shipton added: “We’re not putting a timetable on when we could get fans back. We’re just not going to rush the process and put an arbitrary deadline on it.”
AHS told CTV News Edmonton: “We have received multiple proposals from various stakeholders, including the OEG, about allowing fans to attend. We recognise the value that sports bring, but are proceeding cautiously to protect the public health and prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“No decision has been made at this time. A return to fans at sporting and other events will be permitted when these activities can be done safely.”
Meanwhile, Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne has said plans are in place for Bryant-Denny Stadium to utilise its full 100,077 capacity for the new college football season. Byrne’s comments come after the University announced that it will look to hold full-capacity, in-person classes, shifting from the hybrid and online methods.
Alabama was restricted to 20% capacity for the 2020 football season, with Bryant-Denny Stadium set to host seven games this year, commencing on September 11. Byrne said on Twitter: “We are moving forward with plans to have a full stadium in the fall and will monitor medical guidelines as we have all along. #RollTide.”