California has more professional sports teams than any other state—and lots of fans eager to catch a game in person again. If you’re thinking about going to a game this summer, keep in mind that for a variety of reasons, there’s no one-size-fits-all set of health and safety standards. Not surprisingly, protocols can vary between indoor arenas and outdoor stadiums, and individual leagues may also impose specific mandates. The biggest variable, no matter the sport, is that teams must comply with the specific regulations of their local public health departments.
Individual teams are also establishing their own protocols, so a good first step for fans is to check the team’s website to learn the rules for any game you’re planning to attend. Although the Los Angeles Dodgers quickly opened to full capacity, for instance, the San Francisco Giants waited a bit longer—June 25—to let fans get used to the new normal, according to Shana Daum, senior vice president, public affairs and community relations.
“We’ve always appreciated our fans but now we appreciate them even more,” says Daum. “Since Opening Day, the players have been thankful just to have fans in [attendance] and not be playing in front of cardboard cutouts and piped-in crowd noise. Some of our players just joined this year or last year when we haven’t been close to full capacity. They never really experienced Oracle Park. Now they’ll get that experience.”
They’re excited over in Major League Soccer too. After California’s reopening, the Los Angeles Galaxy and Los Angeles Football Club played home matches on the same night and drew a total of 45,000 fans. “It’s awesome,” LAFC midfielder Corey Baird says. “The fans are obviously a huge part of our team and playing at home, with the energy they give us and the support they’re giving us throughout the entire game—we’re going to put on a show for those supporters.”
Here are a few of the most common COVID-19 protocols to expect when attending a sporting event in California.
Cashless Venues. Many teams are limiting concession and merchandise purchases to digital wallets and credit/debit cards, or through apps. For the Giants and Dodgers, as well as the San Diego Padres, Los Angeles Angels, and Oakland Athletics, that means using the MLB Ballpark app. Depending on the venue, you’ll be able to order food from your seat, then pick up your grub from the concession stand you selected. (At Padres games in Petco Park, they even deliver food to all sections.) There will also still be walk-up service at most ballpark concession stands. For MLS events, you can download apps for California’s teams: the Los Angeles Galaxy, Los Angeles Football Club, and the San Jose Earthquakes.
Paperless Tickets. Forget about the good old days of saving your ticket stub or even the PDF you printed from a computer. To limit touchpoints, at most events you’ll need to show a digital ticket on your mobile phone. That’s another good reason to download the team’s or league’s app. Among California’s three NHL teams, the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks have their own apps for ticketing, while the Anaheim Ducks use the official NHL app.
Bring a Mask. Although proof of vaccination isn’t required, unvaccinated people are encouraged to wear masks. There’s no mask requirement for vaccinated individuals but some teams still suggest that all fans continue to mask up when accessing indoor spaces.
Bag the Bag. To speed up the entry process and to minimize points of contact, many teams are strictly limiting the size and kinds of bags that fans bring into arenas and stadiums. The Galaxy, for example, has a policy that only permits clear bags and small clutch bags.
Enjoy Some Major News in the Minors. Minor League Baseball was canceled last year but is back in 2021 for the Sacramento River Cats, the Giants Triple-A affiliate, as well as the California League’s eight teams that play in cities throughout the Inland Empire and the Central Valley.
Remember That the New Protocols Are Still Taking Shape. The WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks, for instance, has learned that home is where the hoop is. The team, whose season runs from May–Sept., has had to play the bulk of its games at the Los Angeles Convention Center because the COVID-related delays of NBA and NHL games jammed up the schedule at Staples Center. The Sparks won’t return to Staples until their final five games of the season.
Looking ahead to autumn, the Los Angeles Rams and Los Angeles Chargers will finally get the chance to play in front of full houses at the $5.5 billion, state-of-the-art SoFi Stadium as the NFL expands to a 17-game season. Since policies and protocols remain in flux, football fans are encouraged to check team websites later this summer as the season draws near.
The same holds true for basketball fans. Of California’s four NBA squads, only the Los Angeles Clippers survived past the first playoff round and continued to play at the time of California’s June 15 reopening, when fans had to show both proof of vaccination and a negative test. Those protocols may offer just a glimpse of what to expect at NBA arenas when the Los Angeles Lakers, Golden State Warriors, and Sacramento Kings begin the 2021–22 regular season later this year.