Charlie Baker announced this afternoon the continued easing of COVID-19 restrictions toward the spring, which now includes the return of fans to TD Garden, Gillette Stadium and Fenway Park. The state will allow spectators beginning Mar. 22 with stadiums limited to 12% capacity with social distancing.
The return of any fans to Celtics games will come a week later on Mar. 29 when Boston hosts the New Orleans Pelicans. It’ll mark the first time the Celtics play in front of fans in Boston since a Mar. 8, 2020 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder that still feels like yesterday. The Celtics traveled to Indiana to play the Pacers two days later, 24 hours before the NBA announced the suspension of the entire NBA season.
TD Garden has been permitted to host fans at 12% capacity beginning on March 22, 2021. The first Boston Bruins game with fans will be hosted on March 23, and the first Boston Celtics game with fans will be hosted on March 29. Ticketing information for upcoming games will be released by the Boston Bruins and Boston Celtics in the coming days.
Boston will become the 15th team to return some fans back to the stadium. It will likely amount to no more than 2,500 given the personnel, coaches and players that’ll already count toward the total number of people in the building. It’ll still strike a stark contrast against the zero that have marked the team’s games going back to the Orlando NBA Bubble in the summer when only the benches, video boards and subtle fake noise filled the arena with energy.
That has become a larger challenge with the return to massive stadiums like TD Garden that hold close to 20,000 seats, with only team personnel and executives able to fill a handful loge chairs and scream into the canyon. The team’s season ticket holders, given the 15-17 state of the team, will bring a different kind of energy.
“We have been working diligently with public health officials and experts for nearly a year to create the highest standards of guidelines and protocols to keep everyone as safe as possible at TD Garden,” said Amy Latimer, president of TD Garden. “Using these new Play It Safe protocols, following updated guidelines from the CDC, and implementing the GBAC Star arena cleaning standards, we take the reopening of TD Garden very seriously and are committed to the health and safety of our fans while providing a great guest experience.”
Part of those protocols detailed in the team release will include mandatory mask wearing at all times, pods of seats separated by at least six feet and renovated air filters. Fans will undergo a mobile screening questionnaire before entering the Garden.
The Boston Bruins will open the arena first with four home games starting Mar. 23 while the Celtics are away in Memphis, Milwaukee and Oklahoma City. The NBA announced the second half of its schedule on Wednesday.
Highlights for games that’ll feature fans in the stands include Gordon Hayward’s return on Apr. 4 with the Hornets, a meeting with the 76ers on Apr. 6 and an Eastern Conference rematch mini series with the Miami Heat on May 9 and 11.
TD Garden had prepared for this with employee contact tracing technology and staff training. Delaware North laid off thousands of employees in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic with events halted completely. This will likely return opportunity to at least some of the staff.
“These large venues employ a lot of people and many of them have been out of work for a very long time,” Baker said Thursday. “We’ve been watching how these venues perform in other states, and believe with the right safety measures in place they can operate responsibly and safely here in the Commonwealth as well.”