SAN JOSE, Calif. - For the first time in over a year, Sharks fans were allowed inside the SAP Center in San Jose for Monday night’s NHL game. The change comes as many counties continue loosening COVID-19 restrictions.
The Sharks had allowed employees and their families at previous games. But Monday marked the first time since the pandemic a limited number of fans would attend the game.
Outside the SAP Center, multiple testing sites have been set up, as a COVID test result is just as crucial as a ticket to get a seat inside.
"Getting all the testing and all that stuff, it’s a hassle. But whatever we got to do to get back in there," said Eric Heckman, a long-time Sharks season ticketholder.
Heckman’s wife, Anna, is taking a COVID test Monday afternoon so she can attend Wednesday’s game, also against the Arizona Coyotes.
"It’s really exciting, after not having been for over a year," she said.
The so-called "Shark Tank" has been empty since March 2020. That’s when Santa Clara County officials enacted COVID-19 protocols prohibiting large gatherings, such as fans inside arenas and stadiums.
"After 14 months we’re welcoming fans back to the greatest sport on earth," said Jonathan Becher, president of the San Jose Sharks.
He said in addition to COVID tests, or proof of vaccination, it will be digital tickets only. And, no food can be eaten at the seats, only in designated stations on the concourses.
"(Monday night), there will be somewhere between 500 and a thousand people. And then on Wednesday night we’ll open up a little bit more. And then we’ll slowly get to 25%capacity," said Becher.
Experts said of all the major sports, the NHL is in the biggest hurry to return to normalcy. The league’s overall value dropped 2% the past year.
"The Sharks are intertwined with the Bay Area and specifically San Jose economics. So there are many different stakeholders who are keeping a very watchful eye," said Shaun Fletcher, a professor of Public Relations & Sports Communications at San Jose State University.
Team executives said upwards of 1,500 part-time employees – ticket takers to concession staff – rely on money made during home games. So, officials said the Sharks on home ice isn’t just an advantage for the players, but for those who watch, and win, whenever "Team Teal" takes the ice.
"It’ll be nice to get in there. I hope they at least start winning," said Eric Heckman.
Team officials say rapid COVID-19 testing is available 90 minutes before game time, but there’s a $50 charge.