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No Fans To Attend Lightning, Raptors Games For Now

Thomas Iacobucci/WUSF Public Media

The defending Stanley Cup champion’s first game on Wednesday had planned to include about 3,800 fans in the arena.

Vinik Sports Group, which owns the Tampa Bay Lightning and Amalie Arena, announced Saturday the organization wouldn’t admit fans because coronavirus cases in the area have “risen sharply.”

The announcement reverses a policy that had allowed the NBA Raptors to let fans into the stands in their temporary home in the United States. The season started Dec. 23.

The defending Stanley Cup champion’s first game is set for Wednesday, January 13 versus the Chicago Blackhawks at the arena and had previously planned allow about 3,800 fans in, the team said in a statement Saturday.

The facility will remain closed to fans until at least Feb. 5 , when they said they will reassess local coronavirus numbers with local health and government officials.

Florida reported nearly 20,000 new cases on Friday as the pandemic surges here. The state has recorded more than 1.4 million positive cases of the coronavirus so far.

“We are not comfortable bringing large numbers of fans indoors to watch hockey or basketball right now,” said Steve Griggs, CEO for Vinik Sports Group and the Lightning. “We are hopeful to reopen the arena soon after we see declining rates and better overall numbers.”

The Raptors were one of about a half dozen NBA teams to permit a limited number of fans at home games, with 3,800 tickets available for each game.

Because of Canada’s border restrictions and rising COVID-19 cases, the Raptors were forced to play their home games out of Tampa for at least the first half of the season.