Set to return with a 72-game schedule on December 22, it appears fans will be welcomed back to some degree in certain NBA arenas for the first time since March.
The league is expecting five to 10 teams to host fans to start next season, according to a report from The Athletic’s Shams Charania.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) November 16, 2020
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When the NBA returned to play last summer, it did so in a highly secure bubble, without fans. That won’t be the case next season, as the league plans to hold games at each team’s home arena.
“The goal would be to play games in home arenas, in front of fans, but there’s still a lot that we need to learn,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said back in September.
Silver said the NBA would try to learn from the NFL and MLB, as both of those leagues have held games with limited capacity (usually under 20%). Basketball has an added challenge, given that games are played exclusively indoors in arenas that are much smaller than football or baseball stadiums.
According to another report from Charania last week, the NBA was looking to open arena suites at reduced capacity for games, with a number of safety protocols in place like mask wearing, physical distancing, and testing.
Sources: The NBA aims to have arena suites open to fans at 25-to-50 percent capacity for 2020-21 season tipoff, based on local regulations. An amount of fans — under protocols such as masks, social distancing and coronavirus testing — is a goal to start season.
— Shams Charania (@ShamsCharania) November 5, 2020
According to ESPN, the Golden State Warriors have submitted a plan to have 50% capacity at the 18,000-seat Chase Center in San Francisco. Warriors ownership is prepared to spend up to $30 million on rapid testing for fans, employees, and players, according to the report.
Among the teams unlikely to host fans are the Toronto Raptors, as large gatherings are not currently permitted in Ontario. There’s also no guarantee that the Raptors will be able to play north of the border at all, as the team is currently seeking a “national interest exemption” from the federal government to allow cross-border travel for themselves and their opponents.
Depending on medical advancements, such as the potential availability of a vaccine in 2021, the NBA may not finish the way it starts. Perhaps that’s an additional reason why the league may only release the first half of its schedule at first, which is what Atlanta Hawks owner Travis Schlenk said today.
Travis Schlenk says the NBA will only release the first half of the season's schedule at first, then have a "break in the middle of the schedule to make up any games that may have to be made up due to illnesses."
— Sarah K. Spencer (@sarah_k_spence) November 16, 2020