Fans’ nearly yearlong absence from major sporting events in the tristate area appears to be almost over.
In another small step toward normalcy, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Wednesday that beginning Feb. 23, arenas and stadiums can admit up to 10% of their capacity — with the sort of restrictions that have become routine during the coronavirus pandemic, including social-distancing and mask-wearing requirements.
Attendees also will have to present a negative COVID-19 test from within 72 hours of the event, Cuomo said.
Details regarding how the local teams will enforce those rules, or when and to whom they will sell tickets, were scant in the hours after Cuomo’s reveal. But the general reaction was positive. Finally, fans can come watch — and teams can make more money.
First up: The Knicks and Nets, who play at home on Feb. 23, New York sports’ reopening day.
"It’s great for the league," Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. "Safety has to come first in this situation. For us, we know how important fans are to our organization. It’s something [that] you’re hopeful it gets turned around. This appears to be a good sign. As long as it’s safe, we’re looking forward to that."
Islanders’ coach Barry Trotz said: "We would really enjoy the fans back. We missed that element in our game, no question. They're a big part of what we do."
The most recent local major sporting event at which fans were in attendance was the Big East quarterfinals at Madison Square Garden on March 12. Four hundred were allowed in to watch St. John’s-Creighton, which was canceled at halftime.
That was 335 days ago. That count will get up to 348 by Feb. 23.
Here is what local teams and colleges said about Cuomo’s announcement.
Neither the Knicks nor the Nets said Wednesday when tickets will go on sale, but they expect season-ticket holders to get priority access. The Knicks plan to allow about 2,000 fans at every game.
"We know our fans are anxious to return and we can’t wait to see them at The Garden once again," the Knicks, Rangers and MSG said in a statement.
Tuesday in Miami, the Knicks played in front of about 1,500 people.
"It’s not the same as a full arena obviously, but it’s still great to have fans in the building," Thibodeau said. "We’re looking forward to the day when the arenas are full again. It’s a start and that’s all you can ask for."
The Nets, who said they will donate a portion of ticket proceeds to support vaccination efforts in Brooklyn, directed those interested in tickets to brooklynnets.com/reopening.
"The players enjoy the experience a little bit more and it makes the season a little less monotonous," Nets coach Steve Nash said. "It's exciting to be able to have a little slice of normalcy. I think it's great for the fans, great for the players and great for the organization and community. So I think it's a win all around."
The Rangers’ policy will be the same as the Knicks’: roughly 2,000 fans per game, beginning Feb. 26 against the Bruins, with season-ticket holders receiving priority.
The Islanders were less specific, saying in a statement that they plan to have fans at Nassau Coliseum "as soon as possible." They, too, will grant season-ticket holders first dibs on tickets "when they are available." Their first home game under the new rules is Feb. 25 against the Bruins.
"I'm thrilled that Islanders fans will be able to safely rock the Barn again," Nassau County Executive Laura Curran said in a statement. "Governor Cuomo reopening arenas is a big step towards New York's safe return to normal, and the reopening of the Coliseum means so much for Nassau. We know virus risk is dramatically reduced with precautions in place and rules being followed. I'm confident that we're ready to do this safely and smoothly."
With Opening Day still seven weeks away, the Mets and Yankees have time to figure out logistics. Both teams are selling tickets — including for Opening Day, April 1 at Yankee Stadium and April 8 at Citi Field — but neither said how it will handle limited capacity and refunds/credits for those who bought tickets but won’t be allowed to attend.
The Mets did send a marketing email Wednesday evening, encouraging fans to "be part of the action" by buying tickets, including to two April series.
Like the other pro leagues, MLB plans to allow fans on a team-by-team basis, being sure to follow local and state government regulations. If it’s OK with Cuomo, it’s OK with MLB.
Both teams called Cuomo’s fan ban repeal "an encouraging first step."
"It’s an encouraging first step toward us potentially welcoming fans back to Citi Field," the Mets said in a statement. "We look forward to working with government officials to ensure that the return to the ballpark is safe and convenient for our fans."
And the Yankees: "We will work diligently and in lock-step with the governor to ensure all precautions and procedures are being followed as we lead up to the 2021 baseball season."
A New York City FC spokesman said the club, which plays its home matches at Yankee Stadium, is looking forward to hosting fans in 2021, but does not yet have concrete plans for doing so. The MLS season is scheduled to begin April 17.
Cuomo’s new rules apply to venues with capacities of 10,000 or more, so St. John’s, Hofstra and Stony Brook basketball will not be affected.
Stony Brook (football, lacrosse) and Hofstra (lacrosse) seem to be eligible for allowing fans. Stony Brook said in a statement it will await "further guidance and interpretation on [the rules’] applicability to campus venues." Hofstra saidin a statement it will "carefully study the policy" and what it means for athletics.
"We are grateful to the Governor," Hofstra said, "and share his commitment to reopening New York State’s sporting and cultural venues."
With Steve Popper, Greg Logan, Erik Boland, Laura Albanese, Ryan Gerbosi and Jordan Lauterbach
At 10% capacity, the maximum number of fans allowed in the area's large arenas and stadiums beginning on Feb. 23:
Madison Square Garden