US President Joe Biden has questioned the decision by Major League Baseball team the Texas Rangers to open its stadium at full capacity as the 2021 season gets underway today (Thursday).
MLB teams are opening their stadiums at varying capacities this season amid the ongoing risks posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Rangers are the only club that plans on playing in front of a full-capacity crowd, with the next highest capacity limit at 50%.
No restrictions will be placed on fan attendance at the Rangers’ new 40,300-seat Globe Life Field stadium, which opened last year. The Rangers’ first home game is against the Toronto Blue Jays on Monday and the team could become the first major-league team in the US to open at full capacity since the onset of the pandemic.
The move has been made possible after Texas Governor Greg Abbott said that businesses in the state can operate at full capacity. Abbott has also lifted Texas’ statewide mask mandate, although the Rangers have insisted that masks or face coverings will be required for fans attending games at Globe Life Field.
President Biden has called the Rangers’ decision “a mistake”. The president made the comment during an interview with ESPN in which he discussed the return of MLB.
Biden said: “Well, that’s a decision they made. I think it’s a mistake. They should listen to Dr. (Anthony) Fauci, the scientists and the experts. But I think it’s not responsible.”
Crowd capacities in MLB will range from the Rangers’ 100% to 12%, which is the limit imposed by the Washington Nationals and the Boston Red Sox. A number of teams have signalled their intention to increase capacity limits over the summer if COVID-19 cases fall and the vaccination roll-out continues.
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred is hopeful that more ballparks will be open at full capacity before the end of the season. “I hope by midsummer that we have ballparks that are unrestricted and we have full fan access,” he told the Associated Press.
The 2021 MLB campaign is set to follow the traditional season schedule after the league was significantly hit by COVID-19 last year. No regular-season games were held with fans during the 2020 season, which started four months later than originally scheduled due to the pandemic.
Manfred has stressed the importance of the return of fans as teams continue to deal with the financial implications of COVID-19.
“For most clubs, this will be another year of significant losses,” he said. “It’s not going to be the $2.5bn (£1.8bn/€2.1bn) to $3bn that we had last year, but there will be significant losses if we continue in the mode where we don’t have full fans. The clubs have done a great job of working with financial institutions they had relationships with in terms of assuring liquidity.”
Manfred added: “I see this season as a huge opportunity for baseball. We’re an outdoor sport. I think it’s safe or safer to go to outdoor activities. Everybody seems to agree on that. And I think that there’s pent-up demand for entertainment products, and we’re going to do everything we possibly can to take the best opportunity to take advantage of that.”