In a normal world, a number of things would have taken place on Monday at Nassau Coliseum.
13,917 fans would have made their way through the doors for the Islanders’ home opener against the Boston Bruins.
13,917 fans would have gone nuts when the Islanders hit the ice for warmups and when they were introduced before the game.
13,917 fans would have jumped out of their seats and roared when Jean-Gabriel Pageau broke a scoreless tie in the third period.
13.917 fans would have looked on when the Islanders gathered at center ice for a “YES YES YES” celebration after a 1-0 win.
And the same could be said for atmosphere at Thursday’s 4-1 win over the New Jersey Devils.
But these are not normal times.
Because of COVID-19, the 13,917 fans that would have been in attendance were watching at home or at socially distanced viewing parties including the one that took place across the parking lot at the Marriott with the “Drive For Five” Islanders Facebook group.
And as I wrote earlier this week, it was weird to be in the building on Monday for an NHL game without fans. Really weird.
Fans have not been allowed at professional or collegiate sporting events in New York State since the coronavirus pandemic began back in March, but now there is hope that very soon there will be cheering again at stadiums and arenas. But in a pilot program that New York State collaborated on with the Buffalo Bills, a limited number of fans were able to attend Bills’ playoff games the last two weeks.
For the Bills’ wild card playoff game against the Colts on January 9th, 6,772 tickets were made available and there were 137 fans, 1.9 percent of the ticket holders, that came up positive during pre-game COVID-19 testing.
“All early indications suggest this model was successful and it poses great possibility to reopen events to the public,” said New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo last week during his “State of the State” address.
Then, there were 7,852 tests done prior this past Saturday’s Bills vs Ravens divisional playoff contest and the positivity rate during the testing was just 1.4%.
While the vaccine rollout is underway, it’s going to take some time to get enough shots in the arm across the country to reach “critical mass” and “herd immunity”, but the Governor also made it clear during his address that New York State can’t wait months and months for that to happen before re-opening other parts of the economy.
Like sports venues.
“Testing is the key to reopening our economy before the vaccine hits critical mass,” said Cuomo. “Rapid testing poses great possibilities. It can be completed in as little as fifteen minutes. Why can’t we use rapid testing to open restaurants in orange zones, theatres, (and) offices? There are so many options.”
Could that mean that there is hope for the Islanders, at some point this season, to welcome some fans to home games during the team’s final season at Nassau Coliseum?
“I think that’s the hope of all of us,” said Islanders President and General Manager Lou Lamoriello. “That will take care of itself. The government plays a role and the (safety) of everyone is primary. People with a lot more knowledge of this will tell me when we can and when we can’t. When we are allowed, I think we should all be excited because that means things are all turning to the best for all of us as far as the virus.”
It certainly looks like the experiment of having fans at the Bills’ playoff games turned out to be a success, but those games were outdoors so it would be reasonable to project that when the Yankees and Mets begin their 2021 seasons this spring that they will be able to allow some fans in after playing in an empty Yankee Stadium and Citi Field last season. But Governor Cuomo has mentioned that the pilot program involving the Bills games “could serve as a model for re-opening entertainment venues across New York.”
One would hope that would include the Nassau Coliseum for Islanders games and presumably New York Riptide lacrosse games, other sporting events, concerts and family shows.
Allowing fans into games at some point this season will not ultimately be up to the Islanders although it would be logical to think that they are planning for it, just in case Governor Cuomo and the state gives the go-ahead.
Having fans, even a limited number, can certainly provide a better atmosphere for games, but the decision is going to come down to the experts who will determine when it’s safe for that to happen.
“It’s all going to depend on the numbers and I respect what all the different Governors and the people in government have to deal with. I’m going to trust science on this,” said Islanders Head Coach Barry Trotz. “We’re wearing a mask. You have to trust science. We don’t have fans and until we do it’s really a moot point. Watching the games on TV, even if they have four or five thousand fans in the building, it helps the atmosphere and I think the players appreciate it, especially teams that have been playing in the bubble for a while.”
At this moment, the Islanders and the other teams in New York State are going forward with no fans until they hear otherwise. There are probably fans that would clamor for the chance right now to attend a game even if it means taking a rapid COVID-19 test and wearing a mask throughout the game. There are also probably a good number of fans who may not be ready to come to a game even it it’s deemed to be safe by the state and medical experts.
Whatever percentage the state would allow and whatever the actual number of fans is that would actually come to a game, it would make for a better atmosphere but also signal that we’re moving in the right direction in terms of the pandemic. The Governor has acknowledged that we have to move forward with the economy while the vaccine rollout continues and ramps up.
Let’s say the state allows the Islanders to have 25 percent of capacity, that would be about 3,500 fans in attendance for a game. It wouldn’t be 13,917 packing the building, but I can guarantee two things.
First, I believe there would be a great demand for those tickets and that limited crowd at the game would make a lot of noise.
Second, any limited crowd right now would be better than what the Islanders experienced on Monday and Thursday.
Aside from the fake crowd noise, music, and sound effects, all they had was the sound of silence.