The rhythm of New York sports franchises is beating again. Fans have returned in large numbers back to arenas and stadiums after COVID-19 essentially suspended time back in March of 2020. Both the Nets and Knicks, who began playoff series this past weekend facing the Boston Celtics and Atlanta Hawks respectively, had been hosting fans at 10% of their home arena’s capacity since late February. State regulations capped how many spectators were allowed for each game. But on Monday, May 17, five days before the start of the playoffs, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced an increase in arena capacity.
“As we continue to monitor the metrics across the state, we are strategically reopening our economy and making it possible for more fans to attend sporting events in person,” Cuomo said at a press briefing at Radio City Music Hall.
“Thanks to the progress New Yorkers have achieved thus far in beating back COVID, the Knicks and Nets will be able to welcome more fans at their home games, which is great news for sports fans and another encouraging sign of how far we’ve come since the pandemic upended our lives.”
The Nets announced a sellout crowd of 14,391 for Game 1 Saturday at the Barclays and the Knicks packed Madison Square Garden for their opening postseason game with all 15,000 tickets made available sold. “The atmosphere was unbelievable. The fans were incredible,” said Nets head coach Steve Nash. “We knew it would be fun to play in front of the fans, but to step out there and see the place packed like that, and the energy in the building was unbelievable.”
The Garden crowd was the largest indoor gathering in New York State since the start of the pandemic. The majority of the tickets were sold to fully vaccinated patrons with a special section for unvaccinated fans. Roughly 90% were vaccinated.
For both MSG and Barclays, social distancing and masking rules remain in effect in accordance with CDC regulations. Those seated in the vaccinated sections can remove their masks while in the building. Employees will continue wearing masks in the common areas.
Last week, the Yankees and Mets were also allowed to increase capacity at their ballparks Yankee Stadium in the Bronx and Citifield in Queens—from 20% to 100% as long as fans have been vaccinated. Both venues have been used as vaccination sites since earlier this year. Each team now gives away a free game ticket along with a Johnson & Johnson, one-shot vaccination at their ballpark to encourage those who are not vaccinated to do so.
Adjustments made to attendance are in accordance with the updated CDC guidance for vaccinated individuals issued last week which states, “Fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.”
To sit in a fully vaccinated section, fans must provide full proof of their COVID immunization status. Young adults and children under the age of 12 who are not eligible to be vaccinated can sit with a fully vaccinated parent or adult as long as they’ve received a recent negative COVID-19 test.