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Thunder to begin 2020-21 season without fans in stands

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The Thunder have taken a responsible, measured course of action amid rise in COVID cases in Oklahoma

Sam Presti Preseason Media Availability Photo by Zach Beeker/NBAE via Getty Images

One of the key questions surrounding the start of the 2020-21 season is the return of fans. Teams have made huge losses due to a lack of fans in the arenas; the revenue generated from game day operations was eliminated by COVID-19. Governors such as Joe Lacob have been chomping at the bit to get fans back into stadiums.

The NBA has welcomed the return of fans and has started to put procedures in place to ensure that the risk of coronavirus spreading between people is kept at a minimum level. Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium reported the key details of a memo that was released by the NBA.

The NBA’s memo has laid out the broad strokes of infection control and public safety. However, the guidance is fairly general; the finer points of the planning has been left to NBA teams. Teams will have autonomy to sketch out localised measures that work for their specific region.

In the State of Oklahoma, sports have already begun. Oklahoma State have allowed fans into their football games. The restrictions laid out by Governor Kevin Stitt have been relatively laissez-faire. The restrictions in Oklahoma City have been slightly more stringent. The official guidance laid out by the City of Oklahoma City states that face masks must be worn in indoor places.

The Thunder would be able to return according to local guidance, there are no restrictions in place. However, the Thunder made a statement yesterday in which they announced that fans would not be allowed back into the Chesapeake Energy Arena.

The Thunder did initially intend for fans to be present at the start of the season but it seems that the organisation has reconsidered its stance in recent weeks. The Thunder have clearly opted for caution with this decision.

It is a wise and responsible decision by the Thunder. It is feasible for fans to return to games but it is very difficult to ensure that the health and safety protocols designed to prevent the spread of infection are effective.

We have seen sports leagues such as the NFL and the Bundesliga bring fans back into stadiums safely. However, NFL teams play in open air stadia; in open air situations, the rate of infection is significantly less.

NBA fans sit in arenas that are enclosed, it is an indoor environment; COVID-19 spreads faster in these situations. Providing that everybody wears masks, this would not be an issue. However, it is very difficult to ensure that 4,500 fans are all wearing masks. From a sheer manpower perspective, this would be difficult for the Thunder to manage appropriately.

The decision taken by the Thunder will obviously mean that opening night will not happen with the ‘Loud City’ faithful cheering on the team. The return of fans could happen down the line but it is hard to say definitely. It is a fluid situation right now and it is impossible to make accurate predictions for the near future.