A Look into the Pandemic Fan Experience

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed life for sports fans everywhere. With most arenas empty for the past year, New York and New Jersey’s decisions to allow in-person attendance came at the pleasure of many local fanatics. For Wednesday’s final home game, the Prudential Center was open to Seton Hall fans for the first time in 2021 as the Pirates hosted the UConn Huskies for an unusual senior night.

The changes were evident and it was clear safety was a huge priority. The line to get into the arena was socially distanced and the arena staff were taking the temperatures of all fans as they entered the premises. Everyone was required to wear a mask for the entirety of the game. Even ushers had signs to remind folks to keep their masks on as they were shown to their socially-distanced seating assignments.

Once fans got to their seats, it was not hard to spot the attendance differences from your usual senior night at The Rock. Limited to about 15% capacity, around 1,700 fans were permitted to be inside the Prudential Center. 

The first ten rows of seats were left empty to separate fans from the teams. Additionally, to prevent folks from mingling together and breaking social distancing protocols, all of the seats that were not available for purchase were tied up. Fans could only reserve groups of two seats together in order to help space things out.

Some of the usual amenities for fans were different as well. In bathrooms, certain toilets and sinks were covered up to help keep people apart, and in the common areas there were hand sanitizing stations all over the place. The most notable change to amenities was how concessions were purchased and received. In fact, some may argue the new, COVID-caused system is better than that of old. Fans simply ordered their overpriced stadium foods and beverages from the Prudential Center website and were subsequently texted updates on their orders and where and when to pick them up. This system completely eliminated the once-dreaded, crowded concession lines but did not slash the infamous prices at all.

While the attending fans were certainly disappointed with the season-derailing 69-58 Pirates loss, many were just happy to experience live sports once again. The COVID-era has changed daily life and activities for everyone across the world, so even at limited capacity, the new-look revival of the live-fan experience is providing hope and a returning sense of normalcy. Sports fans are certainly willing to sacrifice traditional packed houses in order to safely watch their favorite teams from mere feet away once again.