It’s been exactly eleven months to the day since sports stopped and fans were last allowed in buildings in the tri-state area but after pauses, bubbles and a myriad of COVID cases, NY governor Andrew Cuomo announced that local arenas can again allow fans in less than two weeks (the 23rd, to be exact), starting out with 10% capacity. If you’re an Islanders or Rangers fan you’d be excited for the chance to see your team live again. Maybe doubly so for baseball fans, who haven’t gotten to see their respective teams since early fall in 2019, it’s been about eighteen months since any fan has passed through the turnstiles at either Yankee Stadium or Citi Field.
Of course there’s the flip side to that anticipation and excitement, and I don’t just mean the precautions that have been rumored – such as wearing masks during the entire game or having to provide proof of a negative test within 72 hours of each time you enter the building. Don’t get me wrong, it’s certainly not ideal conditions to watch a live game but until a majority of the population gets vaccinated and we get out in front of the curve this is an inevitable part of the deal for sports in 2020-21. Maybe all things being equal I’d do it for one or two games just for the sake of going, if I had that option. There’s still so much we don’t know yet since this news is only twenty-four hours old but I would bet a large number of the seats every team will sell will be to season ticket holders. As it is at the moment, there are more season ticket holders for even the worst teams than there will be tickets available.
Which brings me to the real negative and what will likely keep me from opting in for the rest of this season – capitalism. I get owners have been losing money for eleven months playing games in empty arenas and bubbles without fans, and in the back of my mind I figured all along that they may well take advantage of the situation early on with limited fans in buildings and just overcharge the crap out of the few tickets there are, capitalizing on scarcity and fans’ hunger for normalcy. In the front of my mind, it didn’t really occur to me to check prices for teams who have already had fans in the building until the last couple of days. I was hoping against hope owners might do the right thing (for once) and just charge normal-ish prices for fans who are gonna be inconvenienced by all the protocols and also just plain wary of going into closed buildings with strangers for three hours at the moment.
Hearing the rumored prices for Brooklyn Net fans on WFAN earlier from the afternoon hosts (one of whom is a Nets season ticket holder) pretty much shattered the illusion of anything close to normal when it comes to ticket prices in general though. Apparently the cheapest get-in price is $600…not for the rest of the season but per game. I get Brooklyn has appeal with the big three fueling a title run but my goodness, that’s taking scalping to the nth degree. Especially considering the NBA regular season is pretty irrelevant for title contenders as it is. With about twenty more home games in the NBA that would drive the price to a cool $12 grand per ticket, and that’s before dropping a dime on the playoffs which will also be overcharged compared to normal since we won’t have full arenas by then.
Obviously the NHL teams won’t be quite that high, even at the Garden since hockey isn’t basketball – but if you figure tickets are approximately five or six times normal price (at least) for the Nets in the cheap seats, then it’s pretty depressing to figure out your own equivalent. For my $35-40 seats that could be upwards of $150-200 per game. I was already wary about going back this year until being vaccinated but those kind of prices would turn it into a flat no, as much as I’d like to get back to the Rock recreation is still recreation. And it still won’t have the ambiance of a normal crowd or the person-to-person interaction that makes going to games better than watching it on TV. For me, I’d rather watch on HDTV than pay playoff plus prices for regular season games without a real crowd where you can’t really interact with the people who are there.
I get that for every two people like me they’ll still manage to find enough people willing to jump through all the hoops and pay the exorbitant prices. I hope they don’t – but the law of supply and demand definitely favors teams right now as an offshoot of the slow rampup to normalcy, particularly the bigger the fanbase. Still, with ratings going down across the board and people getting out of the habit of going to games you would think owners would not be penny wise and pound foolish and make it as easy as possible for patrons to attend games rather than just take advantage of the super diehards you have while everyone else will go another six months or so without attending a game and have that much more time to grow out of the habit.
Of course all of this is moot as a Devils fan until and if they actually get back on the ice, it’s been eleven days since their last ill-fated game in Buffalo and it’ll be another five days before their next scheduled game assuming that isn’t postponed as well. As of yesterday, seventeen Devils still remain in COVID protocol with only the guys who were first put on the list – Mackenzie Blackwood and Travis Zajac – having come off. If we have any other postponed games we’ll pass baseball’s Cardinals for a dubious record – the longest COVID-related absence to date. As a result of the Devils and several other teams having extended COVID absences, the NHL announced a series of modified protocols including rapid tests every day. Why that wasn’t instituted till now is mind-boggling, but as usual the answer is probably related to money.
At least the NHL seemingly resolved us of wrongdoing by stating we have, and will continue to follow protocols. Which suggests this is a league issue, as well as a society at large issue. I’m not getting into the viability of opening up stuff when the majority of people still haven’t gotten vaccinated to this point. I get the NHL has challenges other sports don’t have including cramped benches, indoor arenas and more person to person contact but that’s all the more reason why the NHL’s protocols needed to be souped up as much as possible before things have gone to crap for nearly a third of the league – including a number of teams in the Metrowhatever division we’re in now.
I haven’t paid one bit of attention to the NHL in the last ten days, it feels a bit like the summer again where other teams were playing and we’re back in limbo. I know more about what teams have been in and out of COVID protocol than I do about the actual results on ice these days. I do suspect that our continued COVID pause is a reason why we haven’t heard officially about NJ allowing fans into buildings the way we have NY. What kind of horrible optics would that be when you announce ‘building is open for business!’ while the team’s still in quarantine?
I know I probably won’t be back at the Rock until October in all likelihood, but at this point I’d just rather have some games to watch again. Especially during the winter with snow upon snow falling, and another two months before baseball season.