2020-21 NBA season: Protocols released for fan attendance

By Vincent Frank
Oct 11, 2017; Charlotte, NC, USA; A general view of the NBA logo on the stanchion prior to the game between the Charlotte Hornets and the Boston Celtics at Spectrum Center. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The 2020-21 NBA season is slated to start Dec. 22. It will include each team playing a 72-game schedule. Some teams will host games in their home venues. That’s much different than what we saw during the NBA restart in Orlando this past summer. It also now seems like at least some fans will be in attendance.

Shams Charania of The Athletic released some information as it relates to fan attendance for the 2020-21 NBA season. It’s rather interesting.

NBA releases strict protocols for fans attending games during 2020-21 NBA season

  • Eligible markets can host fans at 25% capacity. It requires said fans sitting 30 feet from the court to test negative for COVID-19 two days prior to the game or a rapid test the day of.
  • All fans over the age of two are required to wear masks, socially distance and take part in a symptom survey upon entering NBA arenas.
  • Food and beverages are not permitted for fans sitting 30 feet from the court. NBA teams can install plexiglass between benches and seats.
  • Arena suites at 25% capacity would not require tests. NBA teams can host fans at 50% capacity should every fan be tested or the “local county’s positivity rate is three percent or below and seven-day average of new cases per 100K residents is 10 or fewer.”

There’s definitely a lot to unpack here. First off, some of the local guidelines the NBA points to as it relates to fan attendance don’t seem attainable. Right now, the United States is in the midst of its worst COVID-19 outbreak since the pandemic hit her shores last winter. That’s not in any way hyperbole.

As for rapid testing during the 2020-21 NBA season, the league has been at the forefront of the science when it comes to this. The Association worked with health professionals to help create rapid testing, something that will be a major part of President-Elect Joe Biden’s plan starting Jan 20.

This is no small thing. Rapid testing would enable fans to receive a negative result within minutes prior to entering NBA arenas. It really could be a game-changer.

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2020-21 NBA season and COVID-19

The NBA had previously considered playing the season in four bubbles, Las Vegas and New York City included. Instead, the league is looking to make up for the revenue shortfall it saw last season. This makes sense from a financial perspective.

However, it does place into question whether the 2020-21 NBA season can be completed as planned. Remember, the NBA was the first major North American professional sports league to shut down operations back on March 11 after Utah Jazz star Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19. The season was suspended for more than five months before returning inside the Walt Disney World bubble.

With cases at an all-time high in the United States, there’s going to be questions about the NBA’s decision to pave this path moving forward.

2020-21 NBA season: Fans in attendance will be by region

This is also extremely important to note. It’s clear that the four California-based teams, Sacramento Kings, Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers, will not be hosting fans once the season begins on Dec. 22.

Other large markets in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Orlando and Miami will likely have arenas at 25% capacity. It’s similar to what we’ve seen around the NFL thus far this season.

As for the NFL and its current season, we’re seeing widespread outbreaks of COVID-19 since the league decided against playing in bubbles. Could that be a precursor for the NBA? We sure the heck hope note.

For now, fans have the protocols they need in order to attend games during the 2020-21 NBA season. And as we’ve seen throughout the pandemic, said protocols are more than likely to change moving forward.