Las Vegas Sun

October 21, 2020

Currently: 99° — Complete forecast

Sisolak: Western states will help Nevada form plan on sports returning

Allegiant Stadium Exterior

Steve Marcus

An exterior view of the Allegiant Stadium, home of the Las Vegas Raiders, under construction in Las Vegas Tuesday, May 5, 2020.

The Raiders hope to open Allegiant Stadium in September on Monday Night Football. The Golden Knights want to finish a season that saw them closing in on their second division title in three years before it was paused for coronavirus concerns.

There’s also UNLV football, which is slated to host a pair of Power 5 conference opponents in September, and the Aces, Aviators and Lights are also on standby waiting for their seasons to launch.

Whether these events happen is one question. Whether there will be anyone in the building to witness them is another, perhaps even more complicated, question.

For clues on how and when the state might allow sports to return, look west. Nevada recently joined the Western States Pact, a five-state alliance that plans to work together to find ways to safely return to normal life in the region.

A statement from Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak’s office to the Sun suggested Nevada will consider following the lead of its western neighbors.

“The governor’s office is in frequent communication with the other states in the Western States Pact to discuss best practices and share ideas as it relates to COVID-19,” the statement read. “These conversations help inform actions Nevada may take in its state-specific reopening plan.”

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown on Thursday announced that large gatherings, including sporting events, are prohibited through at least September. California Gov. Gavin Newsom said he doesn’t see sports with fans happening at all until there is a COVID-19 vaccine.

The other governors in the pact, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, have not made recent remarks on the return of sports or large gatherings, though Inslee was among the first governors to ban them when the pandemic began to take hold in March.

It’s not as if Sisolak is apathetic toward athletics, either. As Clark County commissioner, Sisolak was a mainstay at sporting events in Las Vegas, and even helped bring professional hockey to the valley, as he reminded locals in an ad during his run for governor. He’ll want sports back as much as anyone.

But it’s not that easy.

Nevada just began the reopening of local businesses shuttered by Sisolak’s directive on March 17. On Saturday, Nevada began “Phase 1” of the state’s “Roadmap to Recovery,” which included dine-in restaurants and retail stores opening with strict distancing guidelines. Sports were of course not included, and figure to be among the last industries to re-open, along with casinos.

“As (Sisolak) said last (week), large sporting events will not be reopening during Phase 1, and right now there is no date for reopening of such venues,” his office said in the same statement.

Even if Nevada or any state gave the green light to sports to return with fans, leagues will still have their own say on whether they will allow customers in.

Due to its fall schedule, the NFL has not yet been forced to make a decision on fans in stadiums, and even released its 2020 schedule Thursday night. The Raiders have yet to release information on single-game tickets, though other teams have begun to sell tickets with the disclaimer that tickets to canceled games are refundable if purchased through the team.

Any hope of exception because of the novelty of new Allegiant Stadium and it being the first year of the Raiders’ move to Las Vegas are probably folly, too. California is in a similar position, with the Rams and Chargers set to move into new SoFi Stadium. And while Nevada has around a dozen sports organizations affected throughout the state, the Los Angeles area has about that many on its own.

“It’s difficult for me to imagine a stadium that’s filled until we have immunity, until we have a vaccine,” Newsom said at a press conference last week.

The Dolphins were perhaps the most optimistic that they could get fans into the building for their games. Team CEO Tom Garfinkel revealed a plan on “Good Morning America” last week for social-distance spectating, which including allowing just 15,000 spectators into a stadium built for more than 65,000. It’s unclear if other teams or leagues will look to follow suit.

The NHL is another issue. The Golden Knights have not failed to sell out a home game in three seasons, though that streak may be forced to end if games resume this year. The league paused its season on March 12 with the Golden Knights sitting atop of the Pacific Division, and has begun discussing return-to-play proposals that would get players on the ice as soon as next month.

But any action involving the NHL — or the NBA, which has proposed using Las Vegas as a hub for its playoffs to return — would almost certainly be played without fans. That’s how the Korean Baseball Organization launched last week, becoming one of the world’s first major leagues to host games after virus shutdowns.

“My guess is that we would start with either limited fans or empty arenas, so just the teams and their associated staffs,” Florida Panthers president Matthew Caldwell told the Associated Press.

No one associated with hockey wants to play without fans. The NHL is a gate-driven league with an American television contract dwarfed by those of its NFL, NBA and MLB counterparts, and could stand to lose, by some estimates, $1 billion if a season were not resumed.

Players, meanwhile, often credit a home crowd for the energy they bring to games.

“That would suck,” Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury said in March about the possibility of playing in an empty arena. “It’s obviously something we would miss a lot, but we’re not there yet.”

Nevada has yet to make a declarative statement on if or when sports can return with fans. Ultimately local governments will have the final say on whether it’s safe for its residents to catch a game, and leagues will have to adjust to that.

Other than the NFL plowing ahead with its schedule release, there’s no firm date for when the next sporting event in Nevada will be held. Maybe it’s part of the NBA playoffs package. Maybe it's a Golden Knights game.

And, of course, maybe it’s not until there is a vaccine.