New York City’s two major arenas are preparing to reopen next week for sporting events following news that Gov. Andrew Cuomo is allowing arenas and stadiums to reopen across the state for crowds limited to 10% of the building’s overall capacity.
“The truth is, we cannot stay closed until everyone is vaccinated. The economic, psychological, emotional cost would be incredible,” Cuomo said while announcing the rule change last Wednesday.
With no concerts (yet) at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan, the rule change will first play out for sporting events. Starting Feb. 23, MSG will resume hosting home games for crowds of 2,000 fans, seated in two-seat, socially distanced pods spread out across the arena. The new state guidelines mandate that ticket holders show proof that they have tested negative on a PCR COVID-19 test taken 72 hours prior to an event, even if they have already been vaccinated.
MSG guests will be screened via temperature check and must register below 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit for entry. They must also wear face masks at all times except while eating or drinking in their assigned seats. All in-venue purchases, including food and beverage, will be mostly cashless via credit card purchases and mobile payment systems like Apple Pay and Google Pay.
MSG officials are also asking fans to take a health survey via the arena’s smart phone app 12 hours prior to the game, and employees at MSG will be tested regularly.
“We are thrilled that we can finally start to welcome fans back, beginning with Knicks and Rangers games, and be part of this important step for our city,” says Andrew Lustgarten, president and chief executive officer of MSG Sports and president of MSG in a statement to Billboard. “While we currently have limited capacity, we’re focused on creating the safest and most enjoyable environment, with strict operating protocols developed with state and health officials.”
With only about 2,000 tickets available per game, MSG will give priority to season ticket holders and suite members. The first event will have the home team New York Knicks take on the Golden State Warriors on Feb. 23.
At MSG, doors will open 90 minutes prior to the game, with guests assigned to specific entrances based on their seating location inside the arena. Tickets will be sold in two seat pods, starting at $50 apiece, with pods spaced apart and socially distanced from one another.
The capacity will also be reduced to 10 percent at the Barclays Center when the home team Brooklyn Nets take on the Sacramento Kings on Feb. 23, and fans will also be required to show a negative test result to gain entry and will be required to submit to temperature checks and wear face masks.
The news of the reopening of MSG and Barclays was welcomed by Live Nation chief executive Michael Rapino, who tweeted a message of support to Cuomo.
Great to see artists and fans will be able to begin reconnecting at live events in New York. Thanks @NYGovCuomo for taking the lead with this first move – @LiveNation looks forward to collaborating on more steps towards safe return https://t.co/TQXHnddNlx
— Michael Rapino (@Michael_Rapino) February 10, 2021
The planned reopening comes as arenas across the world wait to receive the green light to reopen at a reduced capacity after being shut down for nearly one year. Last week, the AEG-managed O2 Arena in London had to reschedule a Feb. 27 reduced capacity concert for new wave rockers Squeeze (the show’s second rescheduling).
Citing “the current lockdown in England,” the band’s Glenn Tilbrook and Chris Difford said in a statement that the logistics of pulling off the event for the concert promoted by AEG Presents and SJM concerts under lockdown conditions was impossible.
“I think anyone who thinks 2021 is a reality for touring or festivals is out of their mind. They’re fooling themselves,” explained manager Randy Phillips to Billboard earlier this month. “It’s not just about the vaccinations and how slowly that’s rolling out. It’s the economy. Drive around town and there are so many ‘for lease’ signs in stores and so many restaurants that are closed. When are these businesses coming back? When are these jobs coming back?”
Agent Dennis Arfa agreed, telling Billboard that the economics of moving large scale tours across the country don’t work unless tours can sell at least 85-90% of their tickets.”If there’s touring in January 2022, you need herd immunity by June so that the playing field is okay in October and November at the latest. And that means the NBA and the NHL and the sporting teams are all running at full capacity. That’s the reality,” Arfa said.
The rules apply to all arenas and stadiums in New York state, though major arenas likes the Time Union Center in Albany and the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester don’t have any events on their calendar until May.