The San Jose Sharks were perhaps the first NHL team affected by the coronavirus. The Santa Clara County Public Health Department recommended all public gatherings of 1,000 or more people be canceled in March and the team hosted three home games afterward. The County then banned all large gatherings and the Sharks were scheduled to play in front of an empty arena on March 19 before the league paused the season on March 12. Because of that, they have had plenty of time to prepare and consider various options for how to return when the NHL eventually resumes play.
ESPN's Greg Wyshynski interviewed Sharks president Jonathan Becher on his team's preparations and he provided an in-depth view of the lengths to which the team is going to prepare. While each team, city and situation is unique in this coronavirus pandemic, Becher's struggles will likely mirror those that several other hockey teams face, including the Capitals.
While hockey fans await word on when the NHL season may return to the SAP Center, something Becher and the Sharks learned early on is that it is technically not the league's call, but rather the decision of when to open arenas and how many people they can allow in will be a decision made by the local government.
The Sharks, for example, were preparing to play in an empty arena because the city banned large public gatherings. So long as that remains the case, no spectators will be allowed in for games regardless of whether the NHL returns to action.
Once the season resumes, the next step is filling out the calendar.
At this point, it is almost certain that even if the 2019-20 season continues, it will not be back to business as usual with teams traveling to and from different arenas. What does the resumption of the season matter then in terms of event schedules for SAP Center or Capital One Arena? It matters because once the league decides how to continue this season, it will provide more clarity on when next season will begin. From there, venues can begin to build out schedules. This will be critical for Capital One Arena which houses both the Caps and the Wizards as well as various other events.
Just what the return of hockey may look like in 2020-21, however, remains anyone's guess. But venues have to be prepared and cannot simply react when a decision is made. That leaves Becher preparing for various different scenarios on what the league may look like when it does return to home venues.
"Scenarios like if there's no fans, and it's TV-only," Becher said. "There's no fans, with just TV and radio. A TV broadcast truck requires a bunch of people. Maybe we're allowed 250 people, roughly -- that's a crew, coaches, doctors on site and other things. The minimum number of people is a lot more than you'd think. And it's a big building,"
Becher added, "Which doors do we open up? Do we have to tell people to wear masks? What happens if someone shows up without a mask? We probably have to sell them or give them one. Do we turn them away? We're just building, scenario by scenario."
These are just some of the questions teams have to ask as they look toward an uncertain future.
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