No Shot. No Dice.

With COVID cases on the rise again, more teams are requiring fans to have a vaccine.

Los Angeles Lakers fans who attended games starting in April last season had to provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test before entering Staples Center.getty images

If you want to attend a game or event, you may need to start by rolling up your sleeve.

In a list that grows by the day, more teams will require fans to show proof of vaccination before they enter stadiums and arenas, trying to combat a spike in COVID-19 cases and prevent more drastic measures such as capacity limits from playing out in the months ahead. In most cases, teams are following the guidance of local health officials, which give them few other options.

The current spike comes as the NFL, NHL, NBA and college football rapidly approach the start of new seasons in which they plan for full attendance. They have worked to increase the comfort level among fans returning to live events, but the current outbreak could undermine some of those efforts.

Already, two NFL teams that play indoors — the Las Vegas Raiders and New Orleans Saints — have instituted some form of vaccine mandate for fans this upcoming season, and eight other clubs have reinstated mask requirements in their stadiums.

In general, NFL league and team officials do not believe that new COVID-19 restrictions will materially affect revenue — every team has clearance for full crowds, and no jurisdiction has given any indication of considering capacity restrictions. The Saints have offered refunds to some fans who complained about the new mandate, but there’s little evidence elsewhere of rules affecting sales so far in the NFL, a source said.

However, caseloads are still rising and the political calculations of local officials are hard to predict. “It’s a fluid situation,” New York Giants co-owner John Mara said when asked about a possible vaccine mandate at MetLife Stadium, which his team shares with the Jets in New Jersey. “If you ask me that question again in a week or two, I may give you a different answer.”

Multiple team executives said they would support vaccine mandates to lower the overall health risk of the events, but one called it an “operational challenge” to implement this close to the season. They also noted that it raises legal and customer relations questions to impose new conditions on a ticket already purchased.

The Saints, who will also accept a recent negative COVID test in lieu of vaccine proof, initially said they will not issue refunds for fans before relenting amid political pressure. A team spokesman said about 120 people had requested refunds as of Aug. 18, but those seats will be sold to waiting list customers. 

The Raiders have said fans can get a shot on-site and then be allowed inside.

Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium served as a mass vaccination site. Ravens fans will be required to wear a mask in indoor areas.getty images

As of Aug. 19, masks will be required in all indoor parts of eight stadiums: the Baltimore Ravens’ M&T Bank Stadium, the Buffalo Bills’ Highmark Stadium, the Philadelphia Eagles’ Lincoln Financial Field, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Heinz Field, the Washington Football Team’s FedEx Field, the Saints’ Caesars Superdome, the Chargers and Rams’ SoFi Stadium, and the 49ers’ Levi’s Stadium. SoFi also requires masks in outdoor areas, and the Bills also require masks in the main fan concourse.

Within the NBA, the Brooklyn Nets and Golden State Warriors have announced mandatory vaccine policies for fans in order to attend events in their respective arenas, in accordance with local government mandates.

At Barclays Center, employees and fans ages 12 and up will be required to show proof of at least one vaccine dose. In San Francisco, fans 12 years and older must be fully vaccinated to attend events at the Chase Center. The first event under the mandate is for a concert on Sept. 15 and Warriors President and COO Brandon Schneider said he expects the mandate to still be in place come the start of the NBA season in mid-October. “Until the city tells us otherwise, it affects all events and games,” he said.

Schneider said that while some fans may not feel comfortable or may not be willing to attend games, a recent survey showed that 92% of fans said they are fully vaccinated and another 4% said they would be vaccinated by the time the Chase Center hosts events. “That shapes our thinking in all of this,” he said. “We feel good about the protocols.”

Late last season in April, the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers, and the NHL’s Kings welcomed fans back to Staples Center, but required COVID-19 testing or proof of vaccination.

In the NHL, the Winnipeg Jets’ parent company, True North Sports and Entertainment, is mandating vaccines for employees, events staff and fans starting with preseason games at Canada Life Centre on Sept. 26. As of now, children under the age of 12 will be able to attend games without a vaccine, but those older will be required to be vaccinated and wear masks when not eating or drinking. 

Also in Canada, by mid-September Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment — the parent organization for the Toronto Raptors, Toronto Leafs and Toronto FC, among other sports and entertainment properties — will require proof of vaccination or a negative test for attendees.

Costly stance: Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins lost his sponsorship with Michigan-based Holland Hospital for declining to answer questions regarding his COVID-19 vaccination status.getty images

In San Jose, Sharks Sports & Entertainment has instituted a mandatory vaccination requirement for all full- and part-time employees, including arena event staff for all SAP Center events. And all ticket buyers are required to self-attest to either being fully vaccinated or to produce a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of their ticketed event.

Starting Aug. 25, the MLS Portland Timbers and NWSL’s Thorns FC will require fans who wish to gain entry to Providence Park to provide proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test 48 hours or sooner prior to a match’s start.

The process of MLS clubs deciding to implement documented proof of vaccination and/or a negative COVID-19 test for fans to gain entry to a venue is done in conjunction with the league office, according to a source with knowledge of the process.

As the list of teams and venues making such requirements continues to grow, will fans remain comfortable returning to live events given the current spike in COVID-19 cases?

Research company Market Consult reported research last week showing that the share of Americans comfortable attending a sporting event had declined for the fifth consecutive week to 37%, down 8 percentage points from the high-water mark of 45% in July. At the same time, the share of those uncomfortable doing so increased 3 points to 53%. The population’s “net comfort” — the share of those comfortable attending a sporting event minus the share uncomfortable doing so — dropped to minus 16, the lowest level since early May. 

Workplace policies

The top leagues and several teams now require employees to have a vaccine against COVID-19. Here are some recent highlights:

NBA employees working in the league’s New York headquarters and Secaucus, N.J., office are required to be vaccinated before returning. The NBA will require its employees to return to those offices effective Sept. 13 on a staggered basis.

The vaccine is mandatory for NFL employees who do not have a qualifying disability or sincerely held religious belief or practice.

All vaccinated MLB employees were required to return to work by July 6, per a source familiar with the situation. The league allowed employees who weren’t vaccinated to comply up until mid-August, unless they had a religious or medical justification for being unvaccinated. Those with a valid justification have been allowed to work remotely.

NHL employees working in the New York City office will be required to be fully vaccinated unless an exemption has been granted for medical or religious reasons, according to a league spokesperson. The NHL is returning to the office on Sept. 13.

A source with knowledge of MLS’s plans said the league is returning to the office on Oct. 5 in a hybrid model, with a requirement of three days in the office and two remote. Employees may work in the office more than the required three days. All employees will be required to get vaccinated, but it was unclear how the league will handle situations where employees decide not to get vaccinated for personal, religious or medical reasons.

In Southern California, the Lakers, Kings, Ducks, Galaxy and Chargers have mandated vaccinations for full-time employees at offices within the U.S. The requirement covers live entertainment companies and events including: AEG, Live Nation, Goldenvoice, the Coachella music festival and ticket buying platform AXS.

The NBA Kings will require full- and part-time employees to get the vaccine by Nov. 1.

The Pac-12 will require all employees at its headquarters, or on assignment at its athletic events, to be vaccinated.

AMB Sports & Entertainment will require employees to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 1. Event-day employees at Mercedes-Benz Stadium won’t be included in the new policy, but hundreds of employees on the Falcons, Atlanta United and stadium staffs will be covered.

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