Columbus Blue Jackets fans’ arrival at Nationwide Arena for the March 2 game against the Detroit Red Wings will mark the first time in a year that hockey fans congregated at the venue.
The last time the Blue Jackets had a game with fans there was March 1, 2020, according to Gary O’Brien, director of communications with Nationwide Arena, the Schottenstein Center, and the Ohio Stadium. The last concert there was March 8, 2020.
O’Brien said the March 2 game will operate at 10% capacity, meaning that 1,953 fans could attend.
But now a new announcement from the state regarding event venue restrictions related to the pandemic could change how Nationwide Arena operates in the future.
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Mike Gatto, senior vice president and general manager at Nationwide Arena, said if the upcoming government order allows the venue to host events with about 25% attendance, then Nationwide would make capacity adjustments for the upcoming Blue Jackets game on March 9.
“We believe we have very good protocols in place,” Gatto said.
Nationwide Arena is but one example of Columbus events venues affected by the ease in restrictions.
According to a Feb. 25 release, Governor Mike DeWine yesterday announced that sports and entertainment events will be able to proceed with a 25% maximum indoor capacity and a 30% outdoor capacity, provided the venues follow protocols such as mandatory mask wearing for employees and customers and enforced social distancing.
Gatto said the announcement has him feeling cautiously optimistic as the arena works on reopening plans and figures out how to safely have fans return.
Gatto, who has spent 25 years in the event industry, said the fallout as a result of the pandemic has been painful to watch.
“It’s been an emotional rollercoaster for myself and my staff,” he said.
But Gatto said he knows the arena can produce events at 25% capacity. Ice shows, rodeos, monster trucks, and comedy shows are examples of events that have been held successfully now in other places across the country, he said.
Gatto said he hopes to bring events like these back to the arena by late spring. Concerts would more than likely not return until fall.
In the meantime, Nationwide Arena will continue to host Blue Jackets games.
Hockey isn’t the only sport to be impacted by attendance restrictions.
In a response to a request for comment, Tim Miller, director of communications and broadcast for the Columbus Crew SC, said the Crew is excited to begin the 2021 Major League Soccer season in April following the 2020 MLS Cup championship.
“The health and safety of everyone in our building will continue to be our top priority while creating an enjoyable matchday experience for all,” Miller said. “It is an exciting year ahead in which we will transition from historic Crew Stadium to our downtown stadium in July, and our plans will continue to maximize flexibility and remain adaptable to changing circumstances as part of a shared responsibility to keep us all as safe as possible. We will continue to collaborate with public health experts, government officials, and MLS throughout the pre-season and into the 2021 campaign.”
DeWine’s restrictions adjustment affects entertainment outfits as well, such as CAPA.
Publicist Rolanda Copely said should the ease in restrictions apply to CAPA, the change would represent a 10% increase in audience capacity, since CAPA venues have been allowed to operate at 15% capacity since August.
“We are happy to see the increase in capacity, and while it doesn’t change much for our current situation, it’s definitely a step in a positive direction,” said CAPA President and CEO Chad Whittington.