Inch by inch the sporting world is slowly starting to see fans return to the stands. Pennsylvania officials got their first update in months on Tuesday when Gov. Tom Wolf altered limits on gatherings that had previously restricted indoor facilities to just 25 people.
The latest guidelines greatly increase allowable gathering sizes, and are based on a certain percentage of maximum capacity for an event. [Click to enlarge]
In a news release, Gov. Wolf said, “Pennsylvanians must continue to social distance and wear masks as we prepare to fight the virus through the fall and winter. Regardless of the size of an event or gathering, those things are still imperative to stopping the spread of COVID. We know everyone has sacrificed in many ways and today’s announcement reflects a gradual adjustment to our lives as we learn how we can do things safely until we have a cure, or an effective vaccine is widely available.”
The most recent change comes just a week after a federal appeals court ruled the state can impose limits on events and gatherings while the state fights an earlier ruling on its previous occupancy limits.
For example, under the new guidelines, the Penguins’ Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton — which can host approximately 10,000 people for concerts and over 8,000 for hockey — can fill up to 15% of total capacity, or roughly 1,500 fans for Penguins games.
The Penguins averaged 5,068 fans for 31 home games in 2019-20 and have averaged between 5,000 and 6,000 fans for the last several seasons.
Another example. A sold-out Hershey’s Giant Center seats 10,500. According to the new guidelines, 10% would be allowed to attend a Bears game.
Both NHL arenas (Pittsburgh and Philadelphia) would also be permitted to allow 10% of arena capacity.
Quite a few hurdles remain, including local restrictions in the locations of AHL and NHL teams.
Philadelphia officials said the new rules will not be going into effect in the city on Friday.
In a news conference held shortly after Wolf’s announcement, Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley said city officials will review the guidelines and expect to have an update on Tuesday, October 13.
Farley said Philadelphia has unique considerations, including the fact that it is the largest, most densely populated city in the state; it is the hardest hit by the virus; and it has large venues that attract people from across the state and country.
Wolf’s announcement acknowledged that cities such as Philadelphia can establish their own guidelines.
Is This Enough?
The ultimate question remains. Are these partial attendance figures enough to begin and sustain an NHL or AHL season? The AHL is much more dependent on gate receipts than the NHL, although commissioner Gary Bettman noted last week that those revenues are extremely important for the league to operate.
The closed boarder between Canada and the U.S. will also need to be addressed, should it remain closed when hockey begins.
If You Allow It, Will They Come?
But will fans return? Sportico this week released numbers for college football attendance that showed fans are returning to outdoor games, with more than 90% allowable attendance being achieved.
Although the data is for outdoor football events, the study does shed some light on the willingness of sports fans to return to the stadium or arena.
More to come.
By Jon Sorensen