The Miami Dolphins indicated Wednesday that they are optimistic about having some fans at games this season, and the Miami Marlins believe it’s a possibility. But Inter Miami said fans likely will not be in attendance when the MLS team begins its home schedule after a league tournament in Orlando.
Meanwhile, the Miami Heat’s president of business operations raised eyebrows on Wednesday when he said some of his NBA peers believe next season should not start until teams can play at full capacity.
Top executives for the Dolphins, Heat, Marlins, Florida Panthers and Inter Miami addressed the state of sports amid the coronavirus pandemic during the Greater of Miami Chamber of Commerce’s “virtual trustee luncheon” on Wednesday.
Some highlights from the 60-minute conversation, which was hosted by WPLG-ABC 10’s Will Manso:
▪ Dolphins chief executive officer Tom Garfinkel said he’s optimistic but not certain that fans will be able to attend Dolphins games this season.
“We will be going to our fans saying if you are in any way at risk we don’t think you should come, assuming we are going to be playing with some level of fans — which at this point may or may not happen,” he said “.. .It’s very uncertain. I am optimistic we will play with some fans and am hopeful about that. Assuming that’s the case, we will recommend to fans who are any way at risk not to come. Our season-ticket holders can roll over money into next year. They will be able to roll over and keep their tenure.”
Garfinkel said that the most-tenured season-ticket holders would get first crack at attending games if the Dolphins play with a limited number of fans. He also said the team’s 2020 ticket prices will remain in place for 2021.
Garfinkel said the Dolphins have prepared for three scenarios: “a no-fans scenario, a socially distanced stadium scenario, which would be roughly 15,000 to 20,000 fans and then maybe half-capacity scenario. We have all of those scenarios with a lot of details for each, different budgets for each. Things are changing daily. A few weeks ago, things were looking great and [the] last few weeks things have changed” because of rising COVID cases in Florida and nationally.
▪ Major League Baseball’s regular-season schedule — which begins July 23 — will be released next week, and having some fans at the Marlins’ 30 home games remains a possibility, but there’s no final decision.
Marlins chief operating officer Caroline O’Connor said fans at games is “certainly [an ongoing] conversation. We’re still in communications with MLB. We still have a few weeks before games are played, and we will continue to monitor the situation.”
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez has said he would consider some fans being permitted to attend Marlins games.
▪ Inter Miami co-owner Jorge Mas said “if we come back [to play at Fort Lauderdale’s Lockhart Stadium] in mid or late August, we are anticipating the restart with no fans, which is a shame because I would very much aspire our home opener would be a full stadium.
But he said “we have run scenarios with partial fans. What’s going to happen in October, November, December? The MLS season likely will be extended to Christmas. We are looking right now at a no-fans scenario. We’re going to take a big hit on the gate, but we’ll deal with it.”
If Inter Miami eventually allows fans at games, “our first season-ticket holders will have first opportunity to buy tickets,” Mas said.
▪ The NBA will play the remainder of this season without fans at the Wide World of Sports complex in Lake Buena Vista.
Heat president/business operations Eric Woolworth, making clear he was speaking for himself and not the entire organization, suggested that playing next season with only some fans in seats wouldn’t be productive.
“There is a sense among most of my peers in the NBA we should not be starting next season until we can get all the fans in the building,” he said.
“It’s an extremely fluid situation…. Partial fan scenarios are not only not ideal in terms of how you figure out who will be there and not be there, but it’s financial suicide for us.”
Woolworth explained why: “You can have a partial-fan scenario that’s socially distanced and facility like ours, that gets you 2,500 people. What kind of fan experience can we deliver for 2,500 fans? It’s not going to be loud. People are going to be sitting away from each other…. Why would we do that? I don’t understand talking about anything between the two [no fans or full capacity].
“We as an industry need to figure out how to get people into a full-capacity situation. Maybe that means we have to delay the start of the [2021-22] season. How can we get back to full arenas where people feel they will be safe. There may be some people who won’t be part of that plan or shouldn’t be because they have pre-existing conditions.”
Woolworth said “to lose a quarter of our gate [this season] is something we can’t overcome financially. They’ve done a nice job of trying to salvage our national and local TV revenue.”
▪ Woolworth isn’t certain that a vaccine would be necessary to bring fans back to arenas.
“Three or four weeks ago, if we had opened the arena people would have come,” he said. “Not that we would have done that. There was a sense of consumer confidence. In absence of vaccines, there could be virals that could be developed. Maybe we get to herd immunity. I certainly think that’s a possibility. It’s something to consider that vaccines may not be the be all, end all. There may be steps in between.”
▪ This National Hockey League season will continue at neutral sites — reportedly in Edmonton and Toronto — but Panthers COO Matt Caldwell said one possibility for next season is having “a third of the season no fans, a third of the season socially distanced six feet [between fans] and third of the season [at full] capacity.”
Caldwell said the NHL discussed piping in audio from fans cheering at home during games, but that was deemed not feasible.