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Vaccinated Sections at Concerts Are Happening, But They'll Be Short-Lived

The Hollywood Bowl
Kevin Winter/Getty Images for RADIO.COM

Taylor Swift performs onstage during the 7th Annual We Can Survive, presented by AT&T, a RADIO.COM event, at The Hollywood Bowl on Oct. 19, 2019 in Los Angeles.

When the Hollywood Bowl released its 2021 season schedule on Tuesday, fans eager to get back to live events this month and next were greeted with an option for vaccinated and unvaccinated sections. The Bowl’s safety information states that the outdoor venue is reserving 67% of its tickets for vaccinated attendees. The remainder of the Bowl, comprised of two sections, will be designated for attendees who are not vaccinated but can provide negative COVID-19 test results.

The Hollywood Bowl is just one of the latest venues or arenas to designate vaccinated and non-vaccinated seating. This week, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo gave both the NHL’s Islanders at Nassau Coliseum and MLB’s Blue Jays playing at Sahlen Field Stadium the go-ahead to host 50% of the venues’ capacity for designated vaccinated sections for games starting May 19 and June 1, respectively. Several MLB teams have also opted for vaccinated sections, including the New York Yankees, San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants. MLB’s Seattle Mariners not only have fully-vaccinated sections but are also offering rewards such as free T-shirts and discounts on food and beverages for attendees who show proof of full vaccination.

"Getting vaccinated is the single most important thing we can all do to protect ourselves, our families and our community. Encouraging vaccinations and helping make them accessible to everyone will save lives," said Seattle Mariners chairman and managing partner John Stanton in a statement. "And once enough people are vaccinated, we can all get back to the things we love to do, like sitting with family and friends and enjoying a night at the ballpark."

Staples Center in Los Angeles will host both vaccinated and unvaccinated sections for its upcoming Clippers NBA playoff games, which extends the arena’s capacity, as vaccinated sections will not require social distancing.

San Francisco’s Chase Center -- home of NBA’s Golden State Warriors -- is offering lower-level seating for fully vaccinated ticketholders. Social distancing won't be required in the vaccinated fans section, though masks still will be. The separate vaccinated seating section, however, is currently only slated to run through the remainder of the Warriors’ regular season, which concludes this month before playoffs that could stretch into July.

Sporting events have taken the lead when it comes to returning to in-person audiences. Unlike concerts, professional sporting events are able to subsidize the cost of welcoming only a limited number of fans back with television rights and broadcast sponsorships. The concert business runs on much tighter margins and artists, promoters and venues make the majority of their revenue from ticket sales, food and beverage, and merchandise.  These main points for revenue require fans in seats, which is why many artists and venues consider touring below full-capacity "financially unfeasible."

Fully-vaccinated sections could be a short-lived trend for live events in the U.S.A handful of states across the country, including Arkansas, Oklahoma and Florida, have already dumped bans on social gatherings. In Florida, where Gov. Ron DeSantis eliminated all COVID-19 restrictions on businesses in September, the NBA’s Miami Heat attempted to install fully vaccinated sections at AmericanAirlines Arena starting April 1. On April 2, DeSantis signed an executive order prohibiting businesses from demanding proof of vaccination from individuals. Just over a week later, the Heat told the "Sun Sentinel that the vaccinated areas were "an operational challenge" and eliminated them.

On May 11, Philadelphia announced it plans to lift all remaining "Safer-at-Home" orders on June 11, which prompted Citizens Bank Park to announce full-capacity baseball games beginning June 12. In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom is seeking to remove most COVID-related restrictions by June 15, which would allow venues to operate at higher or full capacity.

Beyond June 15, "that world looks a lot like the world we entered into before the pandemic," Newsom told ""Los Angeles station KTTV Wednesday. "We are not wearing face coverings. We are not restricted in any way, shape or form, from doing the old things we used to do save huge, large indoor convention events where we will use our common sense."

A representative for the Hollywood Bowl tells Billboard the venue is committed to the vaccinated sections through June and adds, "our seating/capacity will evolve as the County dictates."

Large outdoor music venues in California have already begun rescheduling shows that went on sale at full capacity in 2020. In Northern California, the Greek Theater at UC Berkeley has rescheduled shows beginning in August. Los Angeles' Greek Theatre has put a Jason Isbell show, originally scheduled for July 2020, back on the calendar for July 27. A representative from the LA Greek confirms to Billboard that all scheduled shows on the calendar, which start with Isbell's July date, are being sold at full-capacity.