NJ stadiums, big venues will reopen to limited fans in March
Gov. Phil Murphy has announced that large venues will be permitted to reopen to a limited number of fans starting in March, for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic prompted the shutdown of stadiums and other such facilities.
Murphy also extended the updated policy to collegiate sports, allowing two people per athlete to attend a game as long as capacity at an indoor venue doesn't exceed 35%, effective immediately, Murphy said during an appearance on WFAN on Monday morning.
Any sports or entertainment venue with a capacity of 5,000 or more will be allowed to host up to 10% of indoor maximum capacity or 15% of outdoor seating capacity, effective 6 a.m. on March 1.
The New Jersey Devils, who play at the Prudential Center in Newark, said their first home game with hockey fans will be Tuesday, March 2, against the New York Islanders.
The venue typically seats over 16,000 spectators for hockey, over 18,000 fans for basketball, and upwards of 19,000 for concerts and other non-sporting events.
"This is a day toward which our entire staff has been planning, working and looking forward to for the past 11 months. Those who enter the building will feel confident that our process and protocols are focused on making their safety the number one priority," Devils President Jake Reynolds said in a statement. "We can’t wait to feel their energy welcome them back to the Prudential Center to cheer and celebrate Devils’ victories in person."
"Everybody's got to do the stuff that we're all used to these days. Face coverings, social distancing. If you bought your tickets together you can sit together but otherwise we gotta stay from each other," Murphy said. "God willing this is the first step I hope of many more announcements during the coming months."
No coronavirus test results will be required for those attending a game to enter a venue, according to Murphy, which is different than regulations recently announced for New York, by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
MetLife Stadium, which is the home of both the New York Giants and Jets, applauded the announcement Monday.
"As the months go on, we are hopeful that the data will continue to be positive and the number of people allowed into MetLife Stadium will steadily increase," according to a statement from venue reps posted to Twitter.
RedBull Arena General Manager Marc de Grandpré also called the return of a limited number of soccer fans to the outdoor venue in Harrison "encouraging and exciting."
Amid the new state guidance, Rutgers University athletic facilities would not be expanding their crowd capacity just yet, according to spokesman Hasim Phillips.
"Despite this increase, Rutgers Athletics will abide by the Big Ten Conference requirement that fan attendance be limited to the four tickets allotted to each coach and student-athlete for family members only," Phillips said in a statement.
The governor's announcement also paves the way for New Jersey's minor league baseball teams to once again take the field in the spring, after being sidelined during the 2020 season by the coronavirus public health crisis and Murphy's resulting executive orders.
Somerset Patriots team president Patrick McVerry said in a written statement Monday that they showed last summer that they could operate baseball games and other events safely at their Bridgewater ballpark, while following public health guidelines.
"We are hopeful that the move to open minor league ballparks and other outdoor facilities to more people will continue and allow fans to return in a safe and enjoyable manner this summer," McVerry said.
Jersey Shore BlueClaws spokesman Greg Giombarrese told New Jersey 101.5 that by the time the team's home opener is played, as slated for May 4, it will have been 614 days since a game has been played at FirstEnergy Park in Lakewood.
"Our team rebranded as the Jersey Shore BlueClaws back in October. New hats, new logos, new look, new feel but it will be the same great fan experience and the same great customer service based experience for everybody," Giombarrese said.
"This is a great start in safely re-opening the events and entertainment industry in New Jersey," BlueClaws Team President Joe Ricciutti said in a written statement on Monday.
The Jersey Shore BlueClaws are playing in 2021 as a Hi-A team for the first time, while still affiliated with the Philadelphia Phillies, as the Patriots became the AA affiliate of the New York Yankees over the summer.
The Trenton Thunder, who have signed on to play in the new, MLB Draft League, would be welcoming a limited number of fans back for the team's opening day on May 24 at Arm & Hammer Park.
The Jersey Jackals and Sussex County Miners also plan to resume minor league baseball with fans in attendance, starting this spring.
Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ