PGA events have had everything from zero fan attendance to some hosting heavily curtailed numbers. The upcoming US Open at Torrey Pines will be limited to about 10,000 per day based on California’s current crowd and distancing guidelines and the just completed Masters saw more in the neighborhood of 12,000 patrons per day.

Here in Pennsylvania, the Governor’s office recently reopened outdoor events to 50% of maximum seating capacity and 25% for indoor sports. The AHL hockey team I work for can currently seat approximately 2,100 fans per game but we’re in a COVID-19 pause so our thoughts are getting everyone healthy first and games returning ASAP.

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I’ll also add the optics at Augusta were exceptionally strong with a real effort made by both fans and staff to ensure as much social distancing as possible and a real emphasis on mask wearing, even at an outdoor event because of some tight quarters crowding. To say I was impressed by the respect of the patrons and the presentation on the TV coverage would be a gross understatement. I actually couldn’t have been more pleased.

A new wrinkle has been added to professional sports and fan attendance this week as Erie County, NY announced that all persons wanting to view the Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres games in person will need to prove they have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. This drew a rebuke from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo who said Erie County doesn’t have the right to do so and Erie County executive Mark Poloncarz saying the county owns the buildings so they do have the right to say who can watch in person and who can’t.

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Watching this unfold, the question was once again brought forward in my brain: will the PGA Tour, Champions Tour, and LPGA begin to demand those in attendance have their proof of COVID-19 vaccines?

Yes, yes I do.

Do I think it will be widespread?

Maybe, depending on regions and one unfortunate reason.

What I personally think the entire question of any league’s in-person attendance will come down to two magical words: lawyers and liability.

It’s expensive to be an owner or operator in professional sports at any capacity, from teams to facilities to leagues. Those costs never seem to go down and all are making huge investments to ensure the best product takes to the playing surfaces while the fans can have a safe and fun experience in the process.

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One of their biggest risks and expenses to operate is liability, and given what has gone on in this pandemic with teams and leagues having to significantly adjust operations just to field a team or open their doors has been insane. This evidence is most present right now in the NHL where the Vancouver Canucks have closed up shop for almost three weeks as almost 30 players and coaches all tested positive for COVID-19.

Team owners, building managers, and leagues do not want the liability of fans in attendance spreading or catching a virus which can be very devastating (I know two more people who have passed in as many weeks from this). They flat out cannot afford it in so many ways, from the loss of human life, to the public relations optics, and the financial exposure it may provide.

I’m expecting a wide swath of all new language and waivers of liability to be printed on lots of tickets and websites when it comes to future attendance of sporting events because of this last year.

There are a lot of people throwing around a lot of words regarding limiting attendance who clearly do not know the actual definitions of oppression, repression, communism, socialism, and such. Additionally, asking anyone to provide valid proof of vaccination or exemption to take a cruise, fly on an airplane, head into an amusement park, or attend a sporting event is in no way a violation of HIPAA laws.

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What will come into play in some regions regarding fans is an unfortunate reality created by the blurred lines of our world: politics. If there is one place where politics should never, ever have one shred of involvement is the personal safety of persons during a world health crisis. But, we sit here today in a pandemic which was bastardized from day one by people on all sides of the argument and it has taken a toll on public health and safety, often for the worse.

Certain regions will allow more fans. Some have already given the green light to go 100% capacity. We’ve seen this in Texas where the Rangers opened their MLB season with 38,000+ in attendance to a ballpark, which from the pictures and videos viewed, seems to possess all of the aesthetic charm and architectural character of a Sam’s Club warehouse. Texas has ended masked mandates and fans seemed to follow that a lot more than the in-stadium requirement which really didn’t look appealing or caring of others.

Fans are chomping at the bit to see more sporting events. Vaccinations are on the rise, and I would definitely recommend consulting your physician about questions or concerns to make the best choice for you, and I’m two shots of Pfizer in and had virtually zero side effects. But what the public fails to realize is private- and even publicly-owned facilities and events can make any rule they want about who can attend outside of color, creed, origin, or disability.

I needed proof of vaccinations to enter every level school I attended. So does my kid now and in the future. My employer doesn’t require it but strongly recommends getting the COVID vaccine (and I took mine ahead of their policy). Many colleges of all sizes are demanding this of all students returning in fall.

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Yes, your golf tour stop might require vaccination proof as well. It’s not outside the law, and if you don’t want to go because of this there won’t be anything you can do because the lawyers and liability have spoken. Many others will gladly take your spot.

Welcome to the new and future reality, like it or not.


 

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