It’s no question that the pandemic has dramatically impacted the sporting world, with leagues having to adapt to new restrictions and face unforeseen challenges. One of the most notable changes was the lack of fans in sports stadiums around the United States. For Major League Baseball, empty stands were a distinctive feature of the 2020 season. This was a necessary measure to help stop the spread of COVID-19, but if you ask most fans, no amount of artificial noise, cardboard cut-out fans, or virtual crowds could fill the void.
Now that spring training has begun for the 2021 season, there’s one question on everyone’s mind: Will fans be returning to stadiums in time for the new season? The short answer is: maybe. Governor Gavin Newsom recently made a statement on the subject that has many fans optimistic. If all goes to plan, this year will be a turning point for the sport and its fans.
“We’re working on the final details, but we’ve been working very closely with Major League Baseball,” Newsom stated last week, adding that stadiums will only open to fans if coronavirus cases continue to decrease steadily. “Then I have all the confidence in the world fans will be back safely,” he concluded.
Needless to say, the Major League Baseball reopening plans depend on the number of COVID-19 cases. Counties in the yellow tier can admit fans up to a 25% capacity, while those in the orange tier can admit fans up to 20% capacity.
San Francisco Giants to Introduce ‘Fan Safe’ Measures
Ahead of the new season, the top executives at Major League Baseball teams will have to prepare for the prospect of fans returning safely. While there is no definite plan in place for that return yet, Larry Baer, San Francisco Giants President and CEO, says that the team is ‘hopeful’.
“We’re hopeful, not taking anything for granted, but wouldn’t it be great to get the fans back on opening day?” Baer told ABC7News when asked about fans potentially returning to stadiums next month. But before that can happen, the staff at the Giants facility will have to make a whole host of changes to the stadium’s offerings. Fortunately, Baer has a plan.
“It’s something called ‘FanSafe’ and it’s gonna involve sanitizers; it’s gonna involve checks; it’s gonna involve pod seating,” he told ABC7News. Aside from these adjustments, Baer said that concessions would be available, but there would likely be changes. “We’re gonna have menu items that will be familiar but we’re gonna be really careful as to how they’re delivered.” He outlined how a larger percentage of food would be delivered to seats versus being purchased at stands.
In addition to these precautions, Baer said there would be more guidance for fans entering and leaving the stadium. Oracle Park will be adopting a staggered system, meaning that fans will come and go in small numbers at various times, rather than all at once.
Further Changes May Be Coming
While it looks as though many Major League Baseball stadiums will be welcoming fans at the start of the 2021 season, there may be more changes afoot. To allow stadiums to open at full capacity in the future, one option could be to only admit vaccinated fans.
“I think we may eventually get there,” said Dr. George Rutherford, UCSF, who works with the Warriors on pandemic safety. According to him, without instant testing, this option is likely. “I think if you’re not going to have testing beforehand like the Warriors are proposing, if you’re trying to fill stands up completely then we’re going to have another higher level of protection than we can get with just masks and lower density and being outside.”
Currently, it is unclear how the proposed system would work should it ever come into play. Regardless, the news that some fans may be able to return to stadiums come April is good for morale. As Baer put it, the sport is all about that ‘energy’ you get on game day.
“Baseball is about energy, baseball’s about relationships, and you go with your parents, or you go with your children, or friends or your spouse, and that’s what baseball is, and to not have that energy in the ballpark it feels different. I think people would say it feels rather hollow without the fans,” he told ABC7News.
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