There will be butts in seats when the Raptors start their schedule in Tampa, Florida later this week. The team announced today that they will allow a limited number of fans at their home games — starting with this Friday’s preseason game against the Heat — as they relocate to their new home in Amalie Arena.
Raptors just announced they will allow a limited number of fans to their games in Tampa, starting with exhibition game.— Ryan Wolstat (@WolstatSun) December 15, 2020
The exact details lay out that 3,800 fans can be in attendance for regular season games, which amounts to roughly 15 percent of the arena’s 20,500 seat capacity. There will be no floor seats sold, or any seats within 30 feet of the court, a measure that the team obviously hopes will give peace of mind to players and coaches.
Additional health and safety measures include that fans two years of age or older are required to wear a mask; physical distancing in the stands and while navigating the venue is required; there’ll be a health survey screening for all guests as they enter; and cashless payments are needed for food and beverage services.
That’s the PR stuff.
Now, for the gross reality. Anyone who’s read the news over the last nine months knows that any indoor venue — whether it’s a restaurant, a school, or an arena — can be a breeding ground for COVID-19, even with social distancing in place. Our understanding of this has only been further enforced as the pandemic wears on.
A widely shared article from El País opened many people’s eyes to the aerosol spread of the virus: even with the use of masks, in a venue without proper ventilation there is a high risk of spread with prolonged exposure. The six-foot (or two metre) rule of thumb has itself been called out for undeserved uniformity. Any prolonged exposure indoors can result in spread. End of point.
We’ve also seen that Florida has been lackadaisical, to put it generously, in their efforts to control the spread. The state just passed 20,000 deaths due to the virus, has had over 1.1 million cases to date, and has yet to implement a mask mandate, has done nothing to abate assembly in indoor spaces, and has a governor in Ron DeSantis who has no interest in following the science.
“I’m opposed to mandates period. I don’t think they work,” DeSantis said earlier this month. “People in Florida wear [masks] when they go out. They don’t have to be strung up by a bayonet to do it.”
Obviously a motivating factor in the Raptors’ decision here is they can take advantage of Florida’s state laws to make a few bucks off ticket sales in 2020-21. That doesn’t make it a morally sound decision, though. We’ve seen the fans at Tampa Bay Buccaneers games, or at college football games, or anywhere where attendance is allowed in the Southeast United States — proper mask use is uneven (it goes over your nose, guys), enforcement of health and safety is lacklustre, and the virus continues to spread mostly unabated. And that’s just for outdoor sports.
This, along with the decision not to handle the Terence Davis situation with a more proactive approach, makes two questionable decisions from the Raptors organization in as many months. While it’ll add some atmosphere to have fans in attendance, there’s no question that it’s an unethical decision and one where money is being ahead of public safety.
We would hope for better from this team.