Rick Zamperin: More fans are returning to live sporting events during coronavirus pandemic

Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price, centre, looks away as Edmonton Oilers fans cheer the game-winning goal during third period NHL hockey action in Edmonton, Saturday, Dec. 21, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

There is nothing quite like watching a live sporting event in a stadium or arena with thousands of other screaming fans around you as your favourite team or athlete showcases their exploits.

The roar of the crowd, the complete view of the playing surface, the smell that wafts from the concession stands, the array of merchandise that is on display — it all makes for an experience like no other.

Thanks to enhanced health measures and physical distancing protocols brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, we have not had the chance to experience the thrill that live sports provides, in person, for nearly seven months now.

Sure, watching games on television, your tablet or your phone is the next best thing, but it just isn’t the same.

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But there is some light at the end of the tunnel.

A handful of National Football League teams have invited some fans into their venues while forcing them to physically distance, and the NHL, NBA and Major League Baseball aren’t too far behind.

MLB announced Wednesday that it will sell 11,500 tickets to the National League Championship Series and World Series, two best-of-seven affairs that will be played at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, later this month.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver said Wednesday that the league hopes to have teams playing in their home markets next season, which will likely tip off in January, and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said two weeks ago, “How we start doesn’t necessarily mean that’s how we finish,” referring to the possibility of starting next season (likely in January) without any fans but hoping that some of them would be allowed back into their arenas at some point in the future.

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Given that the second wave of the novel coronavirus has already arrived, it is a safe bet that the non-essential travel ban at the Canada-U.S. border will still be in place by the time the NHL and NBA begin their 2020-21 seasons.

And coupled with the current self-isolation rules, it could mean that Canada’s seven hockey clubs are forced to play in a Canada-only division.

That would also mean the Toronto Raptors would be forced to emulate what the Toronto Blue Jays endured this season and call an American city their home for a few months.

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If anything, COVID-19 has forced leagues and schedule-makers to get ultra-creative while forcing fans to watch from a distance.

Hopefully, someday soon, we will all be back to cheering on our sports heroes from the comfort of our seats — and not those in our homes, restaurants or bars.

Rick Zamperin is the assistant program, news and senior sports director at Global News Radio 900 CHML.

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