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Amalie Arena Could Gradually Open Lightning, Raptors Games To The Public

The front of Amalie Arena on a sunny day with lightning statue shown in the left of the photo.
Thomas Iacobucci/WUSF Public Media
Amalie Arena will begin allowing a limited number of family and friends into Lightning and Raptor games in February and plans on expanding access to the public in March.

Family and friends will be permitted to attend Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Raptors games starting this weekend, and fans could be permitted by March — depending on the number of coronavirus cases in the region.

Amalie Arena will begin to allow a limited number of friends and family into Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Raptors games this weekend, with plans on expanding access to season-ticket members and other fans in March.

According to a statement, Vinik Sports Group — which owns the Tampa Bay Lightning and manages Amalie Arena — and the Toronto Raptors decided to gradually open up games to the public starting with the Raptors game on Sunday against the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Lightning game against the Florida Panthers on Monday.

This policy will continue through March 2 while it continues to monitor coronavirus data in Hillsborough County, the statement read.

“We believe this prudent opening of Amalie Arena for NHL and NBA games will allow us to grant access to our season-ticket members and other fans after March 2,” the statement read. “However, as previously stated, because of the fluidities of the pandemic, we are going to reserve the right to review COVID-19 trends over the coming weeks before making any final decisions regarding the return of hockey and basketball fans to the facility."

In a Jan. 9 news release, Vinik Sports Group announced the decision to not allow fans into games due to COVID-19 concerns but said it had originally planned to allow roughly 3,800 fans to its games. Amalie Arena’s soft opening will allow it to gradually permit more fans in as it responds to current coronavirus data.

"The health, safety and well-being of our players, staff and guests will continue to remain at the forefront in our decision-making processes while we navigate this difficult time,” according to the statement.

While the number of new COVID-19 cases in Hillsborough County has been almost cut in half since the original decision to play without fans, the impact of the 2021 Super Bowl and the corresponding celebrations on coronavirus numbers may halt that progress and limit or prevent fan attendance to future home games.

While the future of fan access is still uncertain, there are 22 more home games in the regular season for the Lightning and six more home games for Raptors, who will continue their regular season in Tampa.

Elizabeth Kauma is the WUSF social media intern for the spring of 2021.
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