Early Saturday morning, Vinik Sports Group, the company that owns the Tampa Bay Lightning and Amalie Arena, made the announcement that they would not be allowing fans to attend games for “the forseeable future”. The decision includes games for the Lightning as well as the Toronto Raptors, who have been playing in the arena since December. It reverses an earlier stance in which the Lightning had planned to allow about 3800 fans to attend hockey games, having gone so far as to release tickets for sale over the past few days.
In their statement, VSG stated that the rising number of COVID-19 cases and higher positivity rates were the main factors in the decision. Steve Griggs, CEO of VSG and the Lightning stated,
“Our health care agency partners and the local governments have helped ensure that AMALIE Arena is as safe and healthy as possible, but because of the increasing numbers and the rising positivity rates we are not comfortable bringing large numbers of fans indoors to watch hockey or basketball right now. We are hopeful to reopen the arena soon after we see declining rates and better overall numbers.”
While they haven’t released an exact date as to when they plan on reopening Amalie, it will not be before February 5th. For the Bolts that means at least eight home games will be played in an empty arena. The Raptors also have eight games scheduled in Tampa between now and February 5th. In the three home games Toronto has played so far they have drawn 10,989 fans, an average of 3,663 per night.
This decision will be met with grumbling on social media. More than one fan will probably declare that they won’t follow the team because of it, but in the end it was the right decision to make. Will not having fans in the arena “end” the virus? Of course not, don’t be asinine. Will it help prevent people from gathering in large numbers in a confined space for long periods of time? Yes, yes it will.
Facts are facts whether people decide to accept them or not. Airborne viruses like the flu and Covid-19 spread in confined spaces with large groups of people. That’s it. That’s the Tweet. No matter how diligent the Lighting are at providing a sterile, clean environment, when 3,500 strangers are wandering around a building the chances of a virus spreading are increased.
It’s not just people sitting in the stands, it’s the congregating at entrances [see above photo from 2015], at bathrooms, in the concourses, and at the the concession stands where the real threat of spreading takes place.
For the last week the players and the coaching staff have been asked about how the team is going to prevent an outbreak that would affect their ability to play games. To the one of them they all said that it was being held accountable, making the right decisions, and being disciplined. Having fans in the building runs counter to that.
Is it likely that someone in Section 312 is going to cough Covid germs down onto the ice onto Tyler Johnson? No, again, don’t be an ass. However, with the way Amalie Arena is designed off-ice officials, media, and staff do occasionally have to walk through the concourse. An interaction their with a symptomatic or non-symptomatic person with virus could potentially lead to it spreading to the team. All it took was one symptomatic strength and conditioning coach to wreck the Baltimore Ravens and the NFL schedule. The same could happen to an NHL team.
As we’ve seen in Dallas, where six players and two staff members tested positive, a multiple-player outbreak can throw a wrench into the system. They won’t be opening their season until at least January 19th which has forced the NHL to alter their schedule before one game has been played. Reports are that Pittsburgh had to cancel practices due to potential Covid exposure while Columbus has multiple players missing from their preseason camp due to health protocols.
Even with all of the precautions the league and teams are putting in place this season to minimize the effects of the coronovirus, there is no way to 100% eliminate it unless they went back into the bubble, and that’s not feasible for an entire season. The best they can do is to mitigate the chances of being exposed to it. Removing fans from the building helps do that.
It should be noted that the Lightning are doing this of their own accord. Florida, Hillsborough County, or the city of Tampa did not mandate this. In their press statement Griggs mentioned that this was done without direction of the local health officials,
“We have worked tirelessly, putting every safety measure possible in place at AMALIE Arena. However, as we review current data and COVID-19 modeling for the next few weeks in the Tampa Bay area, we do not believe it is prudent to admit fans inside the arena at this time. Please note the decision to close AMALIE Arena was made internally, without direction from local health or government officials. [emphasis added by Raw Charge]
You can argue that they should have never opened the doors in the first place to sell tickets, but that’s an argument for another day. In the end they chose to forgo whatever revenue they would have generated from 3,800 people in the stands.
Yes it absolutely sucks that fans can’t be in the building. Especially considering Lightning fans didn’t get a chance to attend games following the 2004 Cup either. However, in the long run, not going to games now helps us go to games in the future. The fact that vaccines are being administered, even if somewhat haphazardly, means that we’re nearing the point where the impact of this virus lessens. Being responsible now will get more fans back in the building in the much nearer future.
Raw Charge occasionally chooses to close comments to topics that might be prone to replies that violate commenting standards established by VOX/SBNation.