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Getting fans back in the stands

While the local Halifax Mooseheads have a plan in place for their upcoming season to welcome fans back in seats by Oct. 3, the story for university sports in Halifax is quite the opposite.

With COVID-19 forcing the suspension of the 2020 AUS fall season, the earliest the Dalhousie University Tigers could return to play is January 2021. How exactly university sports will work when they do return is unclear. One thing is certain–they will look different.

“As much as we all want to get back to playing sports and competing, there’s still a lot of unanswered questions at this point,” – Tim Maloney, executive director of Dal Athletics and Recreation.

New protocols

Dal Basketball Fans
Crowds of people at sporting events is a myth nowadays, but much smaller crowds in the COVID-19 era could be managed with proper precautions. (Photo by Ellery Platts)

The Mooseheads have been given the go-ahead from the Nova Scotia government to allow fans in stands at the Scotiabank Centre this season. The facility is one of four approved by the province to allow spectators into events.

As expected, this will happen with significantly reduced attendance numbers and plenty of safety protocols in place. The protocols were announced by the Mooseheads on their website and determined with guidance from provincial officials.

The measures at the Scotiabank Centre will include: limiting attendance to about 2,000 spectators (as opposed to the arena’s capacity of more than 10,500), separating fans into 10 zones of 200 people, mandatory non-medical face masks at all times (unless fans are consuming food or beverages), assigned washroom locations and digital-only tickets.

The Mooseheads will play 60 games this season against teams from the Maritime division. This means they won’t be playing any games against teams from outside the Atlantic bubble, including the league’s Quebec teams. The Mooseheads will begin their season with back-to-back games against the Cape Breton Eagles, who have also been cleared to allow fans into their games at Centre 200 in Sydney. The teams begin their doubleheader on Oct. 2.

A different fan experience

Maloney said several measures could be in place for Dal like the Scotiabank Centre’s protocols.

Fans at Dal Basketball game
A Dal Tigers cheering section, one of the last for a while to not physically distance from one another. (Photo by Ellery Platts)

“Figuring out single points of entry and exit, managing traffic flow, social distancing with respect to seating, likely a face covering at least until you get to your seat. There will probably be minimal to no food or beverage service,” he said.

The fan experience at games is something Maloney believes will be far different from past years.

“The Mooseheads [and others] are clearly going to great lengths to have a [smaller] number of fans in the building, which begs an interesting question around what kind of fan experience that provides,” Maloney said. “We work hard to provide a fun and energetic environment so that students and community members can enjoy our games. When you think about all the measures that might have to be in place, that experience will certainly look a lot different.”

Athletes get used to new game atmosphere

Not only will the experience be different for the fans, but also the players that entertain them. Many will need to adjust from an atmosphere with hordes of fans cheering them on to one with fewer or no fans.

The support from fans was important for many Dal athletes last year, including the national finalist men’s basketball team and their 2019-2020 co-MVP Alex Carson. He credited the team’s strong record at home to help from fan support.

Dal Basketball #13
The Tigers’ Alex Carson looks for a play while the empty seats behind him eerily foreshadow the absence of fans in pandemic times. (Photo by Ellery Platts)

“It was massive. Family, friends and other sports teams came to cheer us on, the alumni that always comes sitting in the front row,” said Carson. “A big part of [our undefeated season at home] was our fans coming out to cheer us on.”

Since the fan-filled atmosphere the Tigers are used to will most likely not be near previous seasons, Carson believes players will have to find new ways to create that atmosphere themselves.

“I think it’s going to come from us as players cheering each other on and being as loud as we can down the bench and on the court with one another,” he said. “As you see with the NBA bubble now, they have no fans there. You see teams and benches cheering as loud as they can because that’s all that they have there: their team.


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