Good news sports fans: New York arenas can open to fans beginning Feb. 23

Madison Square Garden
Mike Stobe/pool photo via USA TODAY Sports

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Wednesday that arenas can re-open on Feb. 23, providing an avenue for sporting events to start having fans in attendance for the first time in nearly a year. 

Madison Square Garden — home of the Rangers and Knicks — the Barclays Center, home of the Nets, and the Nassau Coliseum, home of the Islanders, will only be permitted to fill 10% of its capacity and all those attending must have received a negative PCR COVID test within 72 hours of the event. 

The Nets already have been approved to have fans in attendance for a Feb. 23 game at Barclays Center against the Sacramento Kings. So have the Knicks, who will host the Golden State Warriors on the very same day at Madison Square Garden.

New York’s Department of Health must give approval for each of the venues and events to have spectators in attendance.

The 10% capacity rule will provide the necessary parameters to fulfill the state’s mandatory assigned and socially-distanced seating plan. Face coverings and temperature checks will also be required at each venue.

“It is exciting that Governor Cuomo has announced that New York State will allow a limited number of fans to attend games starting Feb. 23,” the Islanders released in a statement. “We look forward to welcoming the best fans in hockey back to the Coliseum as soon as possible and to UBS Arena at Belmont Park next season.”

At Madison Square Garden, the Rangers disclosed that they and the Knicks will host “roughly 2,000 fans at every game.”

Their first matchup with fans will come on Feb. 26 against the Boston Bruins.

“Health and safety remain our top priority, and we will be working closely with state and health officials to implement the strongest operating protocols,” the Knicks and Rangers said in a joint statement. “We know our fans are anxious to return and we can’t wait to see them at the Garden once again.”

Cuomo’s ruling bodes well for both of New York’s baseball teams, the Mets and Yankees, too. 

With Opening Day slated for Apr. 1, each of the outdoor stadiums should see fans on hand to take in ballgames for the 2021 season. 

“We thank the governor for his leadership, and we will continue to engage his office in productive dialogue moving forward,” the Yankees said in a statement. “The safety of everyone who enters Yankee Stadium remains our top priority, and we will work diligently and in lock-step with the governor to ensure all precautions and procedures are being followed as we lead up to the 2021 baseball season.”

“It’s an encouraging first step toward us potentially welcoming fans back to Citi Field,” the Mets said. “We look forward to working with government officials to ensure that the return to the ballpark is safe and convenient for our fans.”

The NFL’s Buffalo Bills provided a trial run of such a plan last month when they hosted two playoff games with approximately 6,700 fans in attendance, which was just over 9% of the 72,000-seat venue. Each fan had to have proof of a negative COVID test to enter Bills Stadium.