May 27, 2021 - Sports

The fans are back in town

Illustration of a giant pair of legs standing in a tiny stadium.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

When sports shut down last spring, it instantly made the pandemic feel more urgent and signaled just how drastically our lives were about to change.

What's happening: Now that fans are returning in droves, sports are once again acting as a barometer of the world's well-being and foreshadowing our future reality — only this time, it's a reality worth getting excited about.

  • Normalcy is on the way, and you don't have to look any further than Madison Square Garden for proof.

The state of play: After progressing through various stages — from complete shutdowns to playing in bubbles — it finally feels like the lights have been turned back on. And that's because we're finally getting the virus under control.

  • Cases: The pace of new infections in the U.S. fell by nearly 20% over the past week — the fifth straight week of double-digit declines.
  • Vaccines: Half of American adults are fully vaccinated, and roughly 62% of adults have gotten at least one shot, according to the CDC.
Data: CSSE Johns Hopkins University; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Where it stands: Crowd limits are constantly changing, but one thing is true across the sports landscape: the numbers are only getting bigger.

  • 🏀 10 of the NBA's 16 playoff teams are admitting 10,000+ fans, and the Celtics (19,000), Heat (17,000), Hawks (16,000) and Mavericks (15,000) will host near full-capacity crowds this weekend.
  • 🏒 Every non-Canadian NHL playoff team is permitting thousands of fans, and the Predators will host the postseason's largest crowd tonight for Game 6 against the Hurricanes (14,107 fans).
  • 🏁 The Indy 500 will permit 135,000 fans this weekend, making it the largest sporting event since the start of the pandemic.
  • ⚾️ Four MLB teams (Rangers, Braves, Astros, D-Backs) are at full capacity and five more (Red Sox, Royals, Tigers, Orioles, Indians) will join them over the next week. By July 5, 21 teams plan to be at 100% capacity, per The Athletic (subscription).
  • 🏈 All 32 NFL teams can host fans at training camp this summer, and 30 teams have already been approved to open at full capacity this fall.
  • ⛳️ The PGA Championship welcomed roughly 10,000 spectators last Sunday, producing a wild scene on the 18th fairway. The British Open is hopeful for 75% capacity in July.
  • ⚽️ Austin FC will christen its new stadium next month with a full-capacity crowd (20,500), and the same guidelines will be in the place for the USWNT's friendly three days earlier.

Of note: After being away from sports stadiums for months, some fans appear to have forgotten how to behave. On Wednesday night alone...

Go deeper