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What could a Wizards game with fans look like in the 2020-21 NBA season?

It would be a different atmosphere with social distancing, masks, and possibly even legal waivers.

Brooklyn Nets v Washington Wizards
Even if fans are allowed in the arena when Wizards games start again, it’s unlikely that we’ll see fans giving high gives.
Photo by Ned Dishman/NBAE via Getty Images

The NBA is trying to start next season before the new year, likely with teams playing in home markets. And on top of that, teams could have fans at games. Let’s assume the Washington Wizards do start the season in late December and that the D.C. government allows fans in the stands at Capital One Arena. How could it look like?

Socially distanced crowds and face masks will be in full effect

Miami Dolphins v Jacksonville Jaguars
Jacksonville Jaguars fans sit at a game, socially distanced.
Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images

The Jacksonville Jaguars were among the first NFL teams to allow fan seating at the start of the 2020 season this fall. That has required groups of fans to remain in pods but remain socially distances from other pods in the stands. According to their stadium, up to 25 percent of the arena can be filled.

In the State of Maryland, where the Washington Football Team and the Baltimore Ravens play, the state government has recently allowed the teams to have fans at up to 10 percent of capacity. For the Ravens specifically, they can sell up to 5,000 tickets for their next games. For WFT, that’s about 8,000 fans for their Nov. 8 game against the New York Giants.

In addition to the NFL, the MLB held some playoff games, including the NLCS and World Series in front of limited crowds of about 28 percent capacity (or 11,500 people) at a neutral site in Arlington, Texas where the Rangers play. Part of the reason why was because Texas had more lenient laws allowing fans in stands.

Capital One Arena can have similar procedures to allow fans in the building. And since the D.C. government mandates that everyone wear a face mask indoors anyway, that will continue as well. As for capacity, given that this is an indoor venue where the coronavirus can spread more easily, it’s more likely that the capacity limit will be closer to 10 percent than 25. We can’t say for sure because a different government will make the call, and this is an indoor venue.

No courtside seating and no direct fan and player interaction

Unlike the NFL, NBA fans can sit right at the court, if they have the money of course. But in the age of social distancing, fans shouldn’t just sit some distance from each other. They also should sit at a social distance from teams. Given that teams would still be traveling regularly in this scenario, there would probably need to be a bigger buffer zone between the court and fans who sit closest to the game.

That affects more that just the celebrities who want to sit shoulder to shoulder with Bradley Beal and John Wall. The kids in the high five line and the ballboys won’t be on next season either — or at least they shouldn’t.

More contactless points of purchase

Our world is becoming more technology oriented with payments, so this will not be too different. Tickets will likely be only electronic on a phone. And the stores may not accept cash altogether.

Not a guarantee, but alcohol sales could be banned

Beyond its effects as a depressant that can impair driving skills, alcohol impairs judgement. In this day and age, alcohol will make people less likely to wear masks, thinking that they’re invincible. You’ve seen it at the outdoor biergardens and the lines to get into them in Arlington and D.C.

Yes, beer and wine prices are expensive in the arena. But still, I’d ban alcohol sales in sports venues this season. After all, fans will take their masks off when they’re eating that $10 hotdog anyway.

Season ticket holders will be the first people to buy tickets. They will otherwise be allowed to credit payments for the 2021-22 NBA season

The Wizards, like all NBA teams, sell more than half of their seats per game, even if some of them don’t attend. They sell a significant amount of season tickets, well above 10 percent of Capital One Arena’s capacity.

Since season ticket holders spend the most money for games, they can be expected to be the first people to get an opportunity to purchase seats. If they don’t want to purchase tickets, then their season ticket payments will be applied to the 2021-22 NBA season with no penalty or loss of seniority.

And so you know, I am a Wizards season ticket holder.

Coronavirus-specific waivers will be added into the legalese of buying a ticket

Businesses, like Monumental Sports & Entertainment, the Wizards’ owning entity need to make money to survive. Times are tough for them right now since there are no events with fans or attendees. Having some fans in the stands will help cushion the blow they are currently receiving. But since we are in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, that raises the concern that a Wizards or Washington Capitals game with fans becomes a super spreader event this winter, even if fans are masked up.

Let’s say that a game does become a coronavirus super spreader event. If so, will fans who contract the virus may want to sue the arena operator, owner, and event promoter. In Capital One Arena’s case, Monumental is the owner and operator of the building. Monumental would also own one of the teams in a game. And finally, the NBA (or NHL in the Capitals’ case) could get sued too.

All game tickets have terms and services with legal language, that include that they aren’t responsible for various things, like lost items. If there are some specific coronavirus waivers in these terms and services, then that will deter frivolous lawsuits from people who knew what they were getting into beforehand. This isn’t something people will notice right away, but I can bet this will happen.

If the NBA season started this winter with fans, I wouldn’t attend any sports games in person and I discourage you from doing the same. Safety from the coronavirus comes first.

That said, I understand that people should also live their lives — and most people aren’t willfully reckless. We don’t have too many “anti-maskers” in the DMV, fortunately.

But would you attend Wizards games if the season started in the winter and fans were allowed? What changes can you see at Capital One Arena in the months ahead? Let us know in the comments below.