Updated March 1, 2021 - 10:59 am
After the NHL’s announcement on March 12 that it was pausing its 2019-20 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, no one knew T-Mobile Arena would sit fanless for nearly a year.
So with the 2019-20 season resuming in a bubble format in Canada and this season beginning with the Golden Knights playing without a crowd, fans have been yearning to get back in the Fortress.
“After having hockey season to look forward to every year for the last three years, October was dull,” season ticket holder Stephanie Salonga said. “I realized how I had begun to relate holidays to VGK games. My friends and I had made it a tradition to do things like go to the game the day after Thanksgiving — Gold Friday, we’d call it — or the New Year’s Eve/Day game. Not having the game to celebrate the holiday with 18,000 of my closest friends made it lonely.”
With the Knights being allowed 15 percent capacity crowds, or 2,600 fans, for games in March starting with Monday’s against the Minnesota Wild, Salonga will be among the first fans to see the Knights in person.
“I’m attending the March 1 game because I absolutely have to be there the second the gates open and the March 17 game because the St. Patrick’s Day game is always a good time,” said Salonga, who organized the ticket-buying effort with friends so she would be able to attend more than the one allowed game per season ticket holder in March.
For the first time in nearly a year, the chants of “Go Knights Go” inside of T-Mobile Arena will be authentic and not piped in from prerecorded sound bites, which will be music to Knights forward Alex Tuch.
“It’s going to be the best,” Tuch said Thursday. “We’re really excited. It doesn’t matter if it’s five new fans or thousands of new fans, we know they’re going to bring a lot of energy and emotion to the building. There’s no fans like Vegas fans.”
When fans enter T-Mobile Arena on Monday, they will be greeted by an array of health and safety protocols set forth by state and local entities.
Before fans arrive, they must fill out a health survey on their smartphone. No bags of any kind are allowed in the arena, including clutches and clear bags.
“Nothing like that,” said Chris Engler, executive director of operations at T-Mobile Arena. “Really just bring your credit card and your ID to come into the venue.”
Once they enter through a touchless screening process, they will be in six designated sections and must remain in those sections at all times. Fans will be provided designated arrival times on their tickets that will be evenly spaced out, Engler said.
Three-ply masks are required at all times. No gaiters, scarves, bandanas or masks with vents are allowed. Face shields by themselves are also prohibited. Anyone who wants to wear a shield must also wear a proper mask with it.
T-Mobile Arena will be a nonsmoking facility upon reopening, with the outdoor terraces closed to arena goers.
Select concession outlets will be open throughout the arena, all selling the same items.
“Unfortunately right now we can’t have specialty items or specialty stands,” Engler said.
The arena will be a cashless facility, with all transactions being made with credit or debit cards.
Seating pods will be set up in two-, four- and six-seat sections. Groups must purchase all seats in the designated section. Suites will be in use with up to eight people per suite, with everyone inside each in the same group.
Social distancing markers and signage will remind fans of the safety regulations in all parts of the facility.
One thing that won’t change is the in-game activities. Those will go on as planned as if there were a capacity crowd, Engler said.
“They’ll still get the full game-day experience,” Engler said.
The implemented health and safety measures will take some of the fun out of the game-day experience for Salonga, but she’s just glad to get a glimpse of the team that first lifted her spirits after the Oct. 1, 2017, mass shooting on the Strip.
“I’ll definitely miss the opportunity to socialize with my friends during intermissions, but it’s a priority to feel safe,” Salonga said. “I’ll happily wear a mask, stay in my designated area, adhere to the correct time to enter and exit the arena as long as it means I can watch the boys play.”
On March 7, 17 miles north on Interstate 15 from T-Mobile Arena, 12,500 fans will attend the Pennzoil 400, smelling the burning rubber and taking in the sights and sounds of high-speed NASCAR action at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
There will be 10,000 fans in the grandstands and 2,500 spread out in the more than 100 suites and club spaces at the track for the three-day racing weekend.
Usually one of the largest annual events in Las Vegas, this year will be much different with the 15 percent allowed capacity.
“We’re thrilled to have the return of race fans to our NASCAR races; it’s good not only for our speedway, it’s good for our community,” LVMS president Chris Powell said. “We want to be part of the economic engine in this community that proves to people that Las Vegas is ready to get back to business.”
This marks the first time fans will be allowed at the track since the March 2020 NASCAR races, as Powell lobbied to have fans for the speedway’s September race but was denied by Gov. Steve Sisolak.
Fans will enter the speedway at the entrance marked on their ticket, with all fans subject to a temperature check upon arrival.
“Anyone who has a temperature of over 100 degrees will be turned away,” Powell said.
All attendees are required to wear masks when not eating or drinking. Staff will clean high-contact areas every 30 minutes, and social distancing measures will be in place throughout the facility. Groups will be limited to a maximum of six people, per state and local requirements.
Despite Sisolak announcing this month that large gatherings would be allowed up to 20 percent capacity of venues with fixed seating of 2,500 and higher, the two large sports events approved since — the Knights and NASCAR weekend — were only approved for 15 percent capacity.
The reasoning is that the initial events are being treated as a test run, according to Southern Nevada Health District health officer Dr. Fermin Leguen.
“Our decision to limit those gatherings to 15 percent is because those are the very first events that we have here in the county after almost a year without large events,” Leguen said during a news conference this past week. “We need to make sure that our surveillance and capacity to those events is properly allocated and we have the resources to respond to those.”
With some in the sports industry upset about the 15 percent allowance, Leguen said it could be worse, as some states are allowing even fewer fans than that.
“Yes, we are recommending 15 percent capacity. There are other states across the country that have limited that to capacity to 10 percent,” Leguen said.
After the events, state and local authorities will review how each one was conducted.
Powell pushed to host the full 20 percent capacity at the speedway but was denied Thursday by the SNHD. The denial comes even after working closely with Sisolak ahead of a virtual meeting with the health district, Powell said.
“We, as in those people that put on large gatherings … are capable of safely doing that with 20 percent capacity. Now to have the Southern Nevada Health District come along and to ordain that they know more than the governor and his staff is a real slap in the face to the governor as well as to the speedway,” Powell said. “This is a bitter pill to swallow, not only for our speedway but for our community as well.”
He’s hoping with the continued dip in coronavirus cases and the drop in hospitalizations that capacity limits will increase.
“We think it’s time to take steps toward returning to some semblance of normalcy,” Powell said. “The events of March 5, 6 and 7 here are a step in the right direction, but it’s only a step. While I believe we could host considerably more fans, we’re excited to have at least some fans returning.”
Other Las Vegas sports mainstays — boxing and MMA — are also waiting until capacity limits are raised until they host fans again in the city.
Top Rank Boxing has been hosting fights at the MGM Grand since last summer sans fans.
With reduced capacity crowds being allowed, Top Rank could soon welcome fans again. But a representative said the promotional company might not immediately seek to have fans but wait for a major fight to do so, such as May’s planned Jose Ramirez-Josh Taylor junior welterweight title bout.
UFC president Dana White took that sentiment one step further, saying he’s not interested in hosting crowds unless it’s a full house.
“I’m not doing a percentage; I want a sellout,” White said this month during a news conference. “I said … the other day I was optimistic by this summer we could be doing it. Either in Florida or here (Las Vegas).”