Stadiums and Arenas to Reopen Under New York Guidance

Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled new state guidance to reopen stadiums and arenas in New York at limited capacity. (Credit: Darren McGee, Office of New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo)

Fans will once again be allowed to attend professional sports games and entertainment performances in New York at limited capacity, beginning before the end of the month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday.

The first game affected will be on Feb. 23 when the Brooklyn Nets will host the Sacramento Kings at the Barclays Center, Cuomo said in his press briefing. On the same day at Madison Square Garden, the New York Knicks are scheduled to host the Golden State Warriors with fans also able to attend, according to a Knicks statement. Wednesday’s decision affects sports and performance venues that seat over 10,000 people. In order to open up for fans, teams or venues must limit attendance to 10 percent capacity. Madison Square Garden plans to host about 2,000 fans per game, starting with the Knicks.

Cuomo cited the Buffalo Bills’ success during NFL playoffs of having approximately 6,700 fans in attendance if they received negative COVID-19 tests prior to entering the football stadium.

In that spirit, then, people attending games at the Garden or at Barclays Center will have to show they received a negative PCR test within 72 hours of attendance. At the venue, attendees must wear face coverings and practice social distancing. Plans must be approved by the state Department of Health.

“The testing is the key,” Cuomo said. “We’re going to now extend the Buffalo Bills example.”

Cuomo’s goal in allowing stadium attendance was to help open the economy.

“This hits the balance of safe reopening,” Cuomo said. “Again, a PCR test is as safe as you can get.”

New York sports fans welcomed the news. Gianni Rodriguez, 23, an account manager for a staffing firm, last attended a Nets game in March, just before the NBA suspended the season amid the pandemic. In the new season, he’s seen fans attend games in other states, which reassured him about the safety of attending a game.

He learned of the announcement via Business Insider’s Twitter. Now, he’s excited for in-person attendance with his team having Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant and James Harden, all NBA All-Stars, playing in a mostly empty Barclays Center.

“I think it’d be a very unique experience to be in a stadium where there might be like five thousand people,” he said. “That might be ideal, honestly.”

On Feb. 26, the New York Rangers plan to host the Boston Bruins. On the Knicks’ social media feeds, Facebook user Sabu Hayes commented, “Should only be health care workers and Spike Lee in the stands that night,” referring to the screenwriter and film director who is an avid Knicks fan.

Professional sports teams were also quick to respond on social media.

“We know our fans are anxious to return and we can’t wait to see them at the Garden once again,” statements from the Knicks and Rangers said.

On Long Island, the New York Islanders announced season ticket holders would receive first access when tickets are available. In a statement, the Buffalo Sabres said they would release more information on ticketing and game-day safety protocols when they become available.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio took a tour of the COVID-19 vaccination site at Citi Field in Queens on Wednesday. (Credit: Ed Reed, Mayoral Photography Office)

The two MLB stadiums in New York City are currently being used as vaccination centers. In the Bronx, Yankee Stadium has been vaccinating thousands of residents through a partnership between the city and state. Citi Field — the Queens stadium where the New York Mets play — opened its vaccination site Wednesday morning, as NY City Lens reported.

Spring training is also scheduled to begin next Wednesday, while the regular season starts in April.

In statements, both baseball clubs thanked Cuomo for his decision. They both planned to work with officials to ensure safety for returning fans.

When asked about the future of vaccination sites at both stadiums, Cuomo suggested they be moved.

Gareth Rhodes, the deputy superintendent of the state financial services department, added officials would work with teams and venues “to ensure the vaccination efforts are still going ongoing in these neighborhoods, in these communities, and there’s no delay in the vaccine program.”

In addition, Cuomo said the Federal Emergency Management Agency would establish vaccination sites at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn and York College in Queens. Cuomo said these could each vaccinate about 3,000 local residents daily.

After Cuomo’s announcements, Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted that New York City would open more sites as more vaccines become available. The two sites he listed were the Barclays Center and Staten Island’s Empire Outlets.