On Monday morning the Toronto Raptors and the Vinik Sports Group announced that they will allow fans back into Amalie arena to watch Raptors games as of March 19.
Capacity for Raptors games will be 3,500 fans. Tickets for the March 19 game against the Utah Jazz, and the remaining “home” games on the Raptors’ schedule, will go on sale on March 10.
The team and Vinik Sports Group (lease holder of Amalie Arena) claim to have developed rigorous protocols, in conjunction with local healthcare and government officials, to make the fan experience as safe as possible. That includes increased measures to promote physical distancing, cashless concessions, hand sanitizing stations, ultraviolet disinfectant lights and of course, mandatory mask wearing.
Is it safe? There is definitely still some risk at any indoor gathering, even with all of the above. However, there have not yet been any reported outbreaks stemming from NBA arenas allowing fan attendance, and the U.S. vaccination program is in full swing, so the risk does seem to be getting smaller.
Is this going to be good for the Raptors? That’s another question. As you’ll recall, fans were in attendance for several games in Tampa at the start of the season, and they weren’t particularly pro-Raptors, especially when the more popular teams came to town. It’s bad enough that the Raptors have to play every game away from Toronto, but it’s an extra layer of terrible to have fans in their “home” arena cheering for the other team.
It’s just another obstacle for the team dealing with the most challenging pandemic season in the league. Still, the Raptors have had a half-season to adjust to Tampa, they’ve discovered a good starting lineup, and — barring contact tracing protocols — should be healthy and ready to make a move up the standings in the second half of the season.
The Raptors resume play on Thursday night when they host the Atlanta Hawks.