Gov. Cooper’s new order allows more fans at all N.C. sporting events

Gov. Cooper’s new order allows more fans at all N.C. sporting events
The order will have a major effect on fan attendance at high school, college, and professional sports teams in North Carolina. (Source: Charlotte Hornets/Charlotte Checkers/Charlotte Knights/WBTV)

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Governor Roy Cooper has signed an executive order that allows more fans at all sporting events in North Carolina.

The order will have a major effect on fan attendance at high school, college, and professional sports teams in North Carolina, including the Charlotte Hornets whose NBA season is currently underway.

Some sports have not had fans in nearly a year.

The order, that goes into effect on Friday, Feb. 26, lifts the Modified Stay at Home order, which in turn removes the state’s curfew.

Specifically for outdoor sports, like high school football, they will still be limited to 30-percent capacity but will no longer have a 100-person cap.

That includes sports fields, venues and stadiums.

The new order will also allow some indoor businesses to open at 30-percent capacity with a cap of 250 people. These businesses include indoor sports arenas.

An exception for larger indoor arenas with a capacity of more than 5,000 people (like the Spectrum Center and Bojangles Coliseum) will allow up to 15-percent capacity if more safety protocols are followed.

Most college and professional indoor sports like basketball and hockey can have fans at 15-percent capacity with certain protocols.

About 3,000 fans could be allowed at Charlotte Hornets games, based on a 20,200 capacity for Spectrum Center. About 1,400 fans could be allowed at Charlotte Checkers games based on a 9,605 capacity for Bojangles’ Coliseum.

The mass gathering limit will be increased to 25 indoors and 50 outdoors.

The announcement comes just before high school football kicks off in North Carolina. The season, which was moved from the fall because of COVID-19, starts on Friday.

Deidra Coleman, a parent of a Butler High School student-athlete on the football team, said she was pleased with the governor’s announcement regarding outdoor event capacity.

“For myself and my family which I can only speak for it means the world to me to be able to see him doing what he loves and what he’s passionate about,” said Coleman.

Hornets Sports & Entertainment released the following statement regarding the announcement:

“We are excited that Governor Cooper has granted the opportunity for fans to begin returning to indoor arenas and entertainment venues. We have remained in contact with state and county officials, as well as the NBA, throughout the last year and are preparing a plan that we believe will allow fans to safely return to Spectrum Center in the near future. With the health of our guests, players and staff as our top priority, we have implemented a variety of upgrades to ensure that Spectrum Center is as safe as possible, including increased levels of air filtration and purification, as well as enhanced cleaning and disinfecting procedures. Additionally, we have earned a pair of third-party certifications for the protocols we have put in place, the GBAC STAR Facility Accreditation from the Global Biorisk Advisory Council – which we were the first facility in North Carolina to receive last September – and the WELL Health-Safety Rating for Facility Operations & Management from International WELL Building Institute. We look forward to working with Governor Cooper, Mecklenburg County Manager Dena Diorio and our state and county health officials to reopen Spectrum Center to fans soon,” the statement read.

The Carolina Hurricanes provided a statement saying they will be able to host fans at 15-percent of capacity at games beginning on March 4, when Carolina hosts the Detroit Red Wings at 7 p.m.

“The Caniacs are the backbone of our franchise, and we are thrilled to welcome them back to PNC Arena. Our staff has worked extremely hard to put protocols in place to protect the health and safety of our fans, as well as our players and staff. We want to express our gratitude to Governor Cooper, Dr. Mandy Cohen and the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services for working with us to finalize this plan, and for their diligent work to keep the citizens of our state safe throughout the pandemic,” Don Waddell, president and general manager of the Hurricanes, said.

More information on safety guidelines and protocols for the Hurricanes can be found here.

Charlotte Motor Speedway also announced intentions for a limited number of fans to be part of the action when NASCAR returns to Charlotte for the first-ever tripleheader weekend - featuring the North Carolina Education Lottery 200, Alsco Uniforms 300 and historic 62nd running of the Coca-Cola 600 - at Charlotte Motor Speedway May 28-30.

Harrison Marchese, a diehard racing fan, lives in a condo at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He said the racetrack has looked very different this past year. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, there have been capacity restrictions for events at the speedway.

“You compare it to a full race weekend and it’s just a whole different world. Last year just didn’t feel the same at all,” said Marchese.

He said he’s looking forward to this year’s Coca-Cola 600 with more fans in attendance. A spokesperson for Charlotte Motor Speedway said the track could host up to 28,000 or so fans, pending social distancing requirements.

“It hurt seeing all the empty seats last year and while I’d love to have everyone here, obviously everyone’s gotta stay safe so at least we’re making steps in the right direction, and hopefully there’s the light at the end of the tunnel and we’re on our way,” said Marchese.

The Charlotte Knights also provided a statement.

“We are very pleased with today’s announcement from Governor Cooper that outdoor sports venues in North Carolina can now operate at 30% capacity. Our first home game of the 2021 season is set for Tuesday, April 13th and we look forward to safely welcoming fans back to Truist Field. We will continue to work with state and local officials between now and our scheduled home opener,” the statement reads.

Parents, family members, students and coaches made a big push to urge state leaders to expand capacity.

Across social media on Monday, families started the hashtag #LetUsInNC and posted photos of them watching their child’s game from behind a fence.

Commissioner Que Tucker of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA) issued the following statement:

“The NCHSAA is grateful for the improvements in the state’s COVID-19 metrics. These improvements provide the opportunities for North Carolina’s students to return to the classroom in many cases and resume the optimal learning environment that in-person learning provides. We are also excited for the opportunity to allow parents and some fans from the community the opportunity to attend sporting events in-person to support their loved ones. This has been a difficult year, and we know that the limitations have had particularly harsh effects on student-athletes and their families. We are ready to allow some since of normalcy for these groups, and thankful that we have reached this point as a state. However, we want to do our part to make sure that this step forward does not lead to a step backwards. Simply put, we cannot afford further setbacks. On behalf of our student-athletes, our coaches, and athletic administrators, we ask citizens across our state to support their local high school teams by following the Governor’s and DHHS’s guidance which continues to be designed to limit the spread of COVID-19. As we begin relaxing some restrictions on spectators, please diligently work together to keep these opportunities available for student-athletes and spectators by wearing a mask, maintaining social distance and washing your hands regularly. If we continue to work together and respect those around us by following these simple steps, we are confident that our state will defeat this pandemic,” Tucker said.

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