The United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention is now advising that vaccinated Americans do not need to wear face masks in many settings, either indoors or outdoors, a relaxed measure that is likely to help accelerate sports events attendance that has been historically battered over the past 14 months due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The health protection agency last week said that for the first time in more than a year, it is safe for fully vaccinated Americans to remove their masks in most settings. The announcement, while still carrying numerous exceptions calling for continued use in settings such as on public transportation, represents a key turning point in the pandemic.
“If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic,” said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, CDC director. “We have all longed for this moment when we can get back to some sense of normalcy.”
Within the sports, the latest news is set to help expand the push back to full attendance across many venues. Already, several baseball and soccer venues are operating at or near full capacity, and New York recently implemented a measure in which large outdoor stadiums in the state can operate with normal seating for vaccinated fans.
Those local-level initiatives have been followed in recent days by news that Major League Baseball’s Milwaukee Brewers, Minnesota Twins, and Philadelphia Phillies will also go to full capacity at their respective ballparks in the coming weeks. Seven MLB teams have now made such announcements, not counting the New York Yankees and Mets, which theoretically could also do so if every attending fan is vaccinated.
And for those teams not yet at a full capacity, many of them are quickly expanding from adjusted seating plans of 10 to 30 per cent of venue capacity to 50 and 60 per cent.
And perhaps just as impactful as the increase seating capacities, the popular tradition of fan tailgating is also beginning to make a comeback as clubs such as the Phillies are now explicitly allowing those fan gatherings in stadium parking lots.
In most instances, face masks will still be required inside the sports venues while not actively eating or drinking. But the relaxed societal standards regarding masks and the improving Covid-19 case rates enabling those loosened rules are still helping fuel the continued increases in stadium seating.
“Our fans are what make baseball great, as they truly transform Target Field into our home ballpark, and a day or evening at the Twins game into lifelong memories,” said Twins president and chief executive Dave St. Peter. “To that end, we are grateful that our state and region continue to be on a path toward improved health and a return to normalcy, and we are absolutely thrilled to begin our measured, responsible, and safe ramp up to 100 per cent capacity at the ballpark.”
Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indiana later this month is set to establish a new pandemic-era sports industry attendance record with a crowd of 135,000 for the 2021 Indianapolis 500.
The sharply improving attendance will undoubtedly have significant economic ramifications for major pro leagues that have lost billions of dollars over the course of the pandemic, as for most individual properties, gate-related sources represent 40 to 50 per cent of total revenue.