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If it comes to be, it would only be right.
A 50-page document has been submitted by the Oilers Entertainment Group to Alberta Health Services seeking permission to become the first pro sports team in Canada to allow fans back in the stands.
“We really want to be the first venue in Canada to host fans again. That’s the goal we have set and we feel that is something we can achieve.” OEG senior vice-president of communications Tim Shipton told your correspondent Monday.
“We have started the dialog with AHS on a ‘Return of Fans’ plan and we are very optimistic,” he said.
“We know we have the technical expertise, the ability and the experience to do it safely. We’re very proud of our hosting of the NHL and world junior bubbles, but pro sport is simply not sustainable without fans. So we have to find the path back.”
Edmonton played host to 81-games of NHL Hub City bubble ‘Return To Play’ Stanley Cup playoff hockey including both Eastern and Western Conference Finals and the Stanley Cup Final without a single positive test.
Edmonton also produced the entire 10-team IIHF world junior using the same Hub City bubble concept in Rogers Place and the Ice District with rave reviews internationally.
Producing these events so successfully has been a triumph for both the organization, the city and the province and, in the case of the Oilers, should definitely inspire confidence in allowing the organization to show the way.
And that’s the pitch.
“We’re not putting a timetable on when we could get fans back. We’re just not going to rush the process and put an arbitrary deadline on it,” said Shipton.
But he admits the Oilers organization is some distance down the path toward putting people in the pews.
“We have submitted a substantial document that outlines the pillars of our plan,” said Shipton.
He said they’ve produced a seating manifest involving social distancing that would involve about 15 percent of the seats to be available for fans for starters.
One of the features of the plan is for the first crowd to consist of front line workers during the pandemic as a special thank you.
Tom Gazzola of TSN broke the story Monday morning.
The hope, I believe is that they might start with 15 per cent for the last month or so of the regular season and inspire an increase for the playoffs.
With the creation of the Canadian Division to keep the seven teams on this side of the border to play nine and 10 games exclusively against each other, it was also decided by the NHL that the top four teams in the division would play the first two rounds of the playoffs against each other.
If the Stanley Cup playoffs were to begin tomorrow Toronto would play Montreal in one best-of-seven series with Edmonton against Winnipeg in the other with the winners meeting in the Division Final series.
While no teams in Canada have been able to allow fans in the stands to this point, a few U.S. cities have started the process.
Arizona is allowing 3,450 (25 per cent), Buffalo is admitting 1,907 (10 per cent), Columbus 1,903 (10 per cent), Dallas 5,000 (30 per cent) and Florida 4,500 (25 per cent).
Nashville (2,625), New Jersey (1,650), NY Islanders (1,620), NY Rangers (1,800), Pittsburgh (2,800), St. Louis (1,400) and Vegas (2,500) have all received approval to allow fans back in the building at various stages of March.
Allowing even a small percentage of fans in the building for Oilers games would be great news for Alberta’s junior hockey teams as well as the Canadian pro soccer franchises, Edmonton summer league Canadian league champion in both cities, the six Western Canadian baseball clubs and the new Edmonton team playing three-game series in the West Coast League.
But the people that would be the happiest to have the Oilers as the forerunners to allowing fans in the stands would be the Edmonton Ex-imos and the rest of the Canadian Football League clubs.
Primarily a gate-driven league, the CFL elected to shut down completely last season and many are projecting the league will remain on pause until they’d be able to sell some tickets for a shortened schedule this year.
Even at 15 per cent for openers, in Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium with a capacity of 55,819 that would be 8,373 fans.
“This is great news and would show the progress we are all hoping for,” said Edmonton EE president and CEO Chris Presson.
“We know the fans of Edmonton want to see the safe return of live sporting events and it’s promising that the Oilers Entertainment Group is leading the way by consulting with health care professionals on how to do so.
“We have also had preliminary conversation with Alberta Health Services and will work with them on how outdoor football games could host fans safely this summer.”
If they all weren’t big Oilers fans before, they are now.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2021