Major League Baseball teams, informed Monday by Commissioner Rob Manfred to prepare for an on-time start of the 2021 season, received health and safety guidelines that stated teams could also permit fans to attend games, perhaps as early as spring training in February.
No fans attended games last season until the National League Championship Series and World Series at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas, but memos distributed to teams Monday allow for the possibility that spring-training tickets could be sold in small groups of pods, providing they are seated at least six feet from one another, according to a memo obtained by USA TODAY Sports.
Fans still will not be permitted to attend spring-training team workouts away from the ballpark.
Regular-season tickets also are expected to be sold in pods again with seating at least six feet apart, and reduced capacity in suites, just as they did during the NLCS and World Series when about 11,500 fans were permitted into the ballpark.
Fans observe the National Anthem as they wear masks prior to Game 1 of the NLCS. (Photo: Kevin Jairaj, USA TODAY Sports)
MLB currently has no plans to mandate the testing of fans for COVID-19, a proof of vaccination or even temperature checks before entering ballparks, permitting clubs to make their own policy. The memo suggests that the benefits of temperature checks for fans may be outweighed by the disadvantages, such as false readings and close contact between the screeners and fans.
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“Mass testing of this kind is not practical with the existing rapid testing options,’’ the memo reads, “and testing is of limited ability when done days in advance of an event. Clubs retain discretion in this area and may choose to require fans — or a subset of fans, such as suite holders — to test, but barring any major advancement in testing technology, the commissioner’s office will not mandate any form of testing for fans.’’
Yet, all fans aged two or older will be required to wear a mask covering their mouth and nose during games, except when eating or drinking at their seats. MLB is also recommending that only medical bags and diaper bags be permitted into the ballpark.
There still will be a buffer zone between the field of play and fans, but the 20-foot buffer zone that was implemented in Arlington will be reduced to six feet, except for the dugout and the bullpen. The buffer zone around the dugout must be at least 12 feet, while the bullpen must be at least six feet providing there is at least 13 feet of vertical distance between the bullpen floor and fans.
The buffer zones will likely eliminate selling tickets in the first three rows of the ballpark unless there is at least a 6 ½-foot plexiglass installed between the fans and the field.
There will be no restrictions on the closing of stadium roofs, but MLB is encouraging teams with retractable roofs to play with the roof open.
It’s also unlikely that extended dugouts and bullpens will be required this season, but indoor spacing in the clubhouses, as required a year ago, will remain.
Certainly, circumstances can change the policies, but with one month before the start of spring training, there’s now a chance that at least a limited number of fans will not only be permitted to attend games during the season, but also spring training.
“The Office of the Commissioner understands the need for clubs to plan for next season,’’ the memo reads, “but MLB’s policies ultimately will depend on the public health situation in the United States, which is difficult to predict this far in advance of the season. In particular, the current uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 vaccine production and distribution rates is preventing our experts from making predictions about the spring and summer with specificity. As such, MLB’s guidance on fan attendance may change in the coming weeks as circumstances change, and may also be modified later as the season progresses and conditions improve. …
“Changes in government orders, particularly at the federal level, may necessitate changes to MLB’s policies.’’
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