That’s how many days Madison Square Garden went between having fans at New York Rangers games.
Nearly a year without the Blueshirt faithful; pumping their fist at every ‘hey,’ screaming ‘shoot’ on powerplays, yelling ‘Potvin sucks!’ after a loud whistle. Without a doubt, fans were missed.
When it was announced that New York stadiums could hold fans at 10% capacity, the fans were excited. But it was still Madison Square Garden’s number one priority to keep every safe, which meant a lot of safety precautions leading up to and during the game.
I was fortunate enough to attend the first game back at The Garden with fans on February 26th. Here’s a look at the brand new Madison Square Garden experience, and the changes that have been made to ensure complete safety and welcome the fans back to a comfortable environment.
Before the game
Embedded here is a list of what is expected when entering the game. To summarize:
- A negative PCR COVID-19 test, either printed or digital. It must have your name, healthcare provider, and it must be taken within 72 hours of the game.
- Appropriate ID matching the name of the test result.
- Mandatory health survey courtesy of the MSG Venue App, within 12 hours of the event.
In addition, your temperature is taken when entering the arena, after presenting your test and ID. After all of this is shown (outside the arena), security is about the same as normal games. Much quicker, in fact, with just 1,800 fans in attendance.
Another much more efficient mode of operation is the digitalization: all tickets must be mobile. This makes the scanning process much more efficient, as it’s the same for everyone. No more waiting for any fans to unfold their paper tickets or scramble to load some website: the MSG Venue App makes the ticket scanning go much smoother.
After grabbing my free t-shirt, we made our way up to the concourse.
Even with the majority of fans attending the game located in the 100s sections, there weren’t too many people in the Madison Concourse – the main concourse of Madison Square Garden. In fact, it felt deserted at times.
Madison Square Garden prides itself on its various food options. Well, you can certainly count that out if you plan on attending a Rangers game this year. The only food option is the ‘Garden Market,’ an MSG-owned food stand. The drink options are slightly more available, but it still lacks in comparison to a game prior to the pandemic.
The food situation, though not ideal in its variety, is very efficient. You can choose either to order from your phone (which I did not do) or wait in line. With the significant decrease of people, lines are much, much shorter.
Another change – the shopping experience. No more wandering aimlessly into the MSG Shop, taking a look at all the jerseys and sweatshirts there are to offer. Now, there are a few clothing stands set up around the concourse, all of the options out on display for you to pick. The official MSG Shop, on the first floor, is closed in its entirety, still decked out with St. Patrick’s Day jerseys from last March.
In terms of spacing, there is no one within 6 seats of you on your left, right, back or front. Everything is extremely spaced out – no more bickering with away fans next to you, or high-fiving a fellow fan after a goal. Rows in which no seats are sold are blocked off, and unused seats are tied up and won’t budge.
If you get to the arena in time for pregame warmups, you are required to stay in your seat. For now, the days of creeping down to ice level and trying to catch a glimpse of a player up close (and possibly getting a puck) are over. Security is also up to the task – anyone wandering around aimlessly is immediately located and moved to their respective seat.
There are no t-shirt tosses, intermission games, and no “blue-crew.” To replace this, The Garden has experimented with different “fan-cams,” including the “TikTok Dance Cam,” in efforts to get fans riled up and out of their seats. (At my game, Dancing Larry was not in attendance, but he has been at other games!)
Also honored throughout the game were various frontline workers. Every fan was on their feet, applauding loud – if it weren’t for these frontline workers, we would not be able to attend games in person in any form, and each and every fan recognized this.
Perhaps the biggest question is masks, and if all the guidelines were enforced – the answer is yes. The fans followed the protocol strictly, and security was on top of it if it seemed that someone had their mask a little too low. Seeing security dedicated to the enforcement of these protocols was the main factor of me feeling safe at this game. Not to mention, each and every staff member was overjoyed to be there and interacting with fans – the morale, overall, was high.
It will be a long time until we return completely to normal. For now, we will have to adapt to the situation we are in – a new normal of COVID testing, temperature checks, socially distanced seating, and more. What’s most important is that we all stay safe and abide by these guidelines strictly in order to assure a positive, comfortable experience.
And believe me, I cannot wait to cheer alongside 18,000 other Blueshirts fans. But for now, 1,800 will do just fine.