Major League Baseball’s St. Louis Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers and Kansas City Royals have all detailed plans to return fans to their ballparks, while NHL ice hockey team the Tampa Bay Lightning is set to welcome back spectators to its Amalie Arena.
The Cardinals, in cooperation with the City of St. Louis and MLB, announced they have received approval to welcome fans back to Busch Stadium for the 2021 season, beginning on April 8 with a game against the Brewers.
Busch Stadium (pictured) will be permitted to accept up to 32% capacity. The ballpark has a capacity of 45,538, meaning around 14,500 fans could attend games. A number of policies and protocols will be in place, including fans being seated in pods of four or less with a minimum distance of six-feet between seating pods in all directions.
Masks will be required at all times in all areas of the stadium. “Reports of new COVID-19 infections have continued to decline in St. Louis over the past month,” said Dr. Fredrick Echols, acting director of health for the City of St. Louis.
“Our case positivity rate, the percent of persons tested who have a positive result, recently dipped below 5% for the first time since September 15, 2020. The Cardinals organisation has worked diligently to ensure they are able to create and maintain a safe environment for staff and fans. Wearing a face covering, social distancing, cleaning, and other infectious disease control measures they have in place for the stadium should keep us moving in the right direction.”
Matt Gifford, vice-president of stadium operations, added: “Busch Stadium’s vast open-air footprint, six entry gates and wide concourses gives us the ability to create the safest environment possible for guests to root on the Cardinals this year. We’ve all missed the fans at the ballpark and are confident that all fans will adhere to these policies for an outstanding game day experience.”
For the first time in 18 months, the Brewers will open American Family Field to fans after City of Milwaukee Health Commissioner Kirsten Johnson approved a plan to begin the regular season at 25% of total capacity.
The Brewers had been seeking 35% capacity of its 41,900-capacity ballpark, with the approval granted set to be enough for around 10,500 fans to attend games. The Brewers’ opening 2021 season game is against the Minnesota Twins on April 1. The last home game with fans in attendance was on September 22, 2019.
Rick Schlesinger, Milwaukee Brewers president of business operations, said: “Our players repeatedly say that Brewers fans bring phenomenal energy to the game and are the critical piece of the ballpark atmosphere.
“Approval of the plan allows us to bring much-needed jobs for members of our event staff and game-day workforce. We will continue to communicate with the city officials and work toward increasing the capacity if the health metrics continue to improve.”
Royals chairman/CEO, John Sherman, will be able to witness fans in Kauffman Stadium for the first time since his ownership group acquired the club in November 2019. The Royals have been working in concert for months with Kansas City health officials and the Jackson County Sports Authority to ensure fan safety.
New protocols and guidelines include beginning the season with a seating capacity of approximately 30%, comprised of socially distanced seating pods. Kauffman Stadium has a capacity of 37,903, but 10,000 fans will be allowed into April’s opening 13 games, commencing with the April 1 fixture against the Texas Rangers.
The Royals said their goal is to expand the capacity monthly, as the season progresses, and it is safe to do so.
Vinik Sports Group (VSG), parent company of the Lightning, has announced it will welcome a maximum of 3,800 fans back to Amalie Arena for games, starting with the March 13 game against the Nashville Predators.
The Lightning have 18 home games remaining on their 2020-21 regular season schedule. The team’s last regular season home game is scheduled for May 7 against the Dallas Stars. In December, the Lightning and VSG announced their ‘Play it Safe’ campaign, offering a roadmap to ensure the safety of guests and those around them.
Amalie Arena is now one of the first arenas in North America to be dual certified by both the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) and the Global Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC), which is a division of the International Sanitary Supply Association (ISSA).
NBA basketball team Toronto Raptors played four games at the 3,800 capacity before VSG announced on January 9 that Amalie Arena would be shut to fans due to a spike in COVID-19 cases and positivity rates.
The Raptors last month announced they will stay in Tampa for the remainder of the 2020-21 season. The team is playing at Amalie Arena due to ongoing travel-related restrictions in Canada during the pandemic.
The Lightning has played all its home games so far this season behind closed doors. VSG said information regarding attendance for Raptors games will be released at a later date.
Image: Fredlyfish4/CC BY-SA 3.0/Edited for size