- The Washington Times - Monday, March 15, 2021

The stands won’t be empty on opening day at Nationals Park after all.

A crowd of about 5,000 fans will be allowed in when the Nationals open their season April 1 against the visiting New York Mets, according to an update Monday from D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser.

The mayor announced that the Nationals and MLS’s D.C. United each applied for waivers that would allow a limited number of fans to start returning to games.

D.C. United, which opens its MLS campaign April 17 at Audi Field, expects to welcome back at least 2,000 fans.

“All of our professional sports teams can submit a waiver application for fans now,” Bowser said at a Monday press conference. The D.C. United request was approved later Monday, and the mayor said she expected the Nationals’ request to also win city approval. 

Neither the Wizards nor the Capitals, both in the middle of their NBA and NHL seasons at Capital One Arena, were explicitly mentioned Monday by Bowser, but a representative of both teams told The Washington Times they’ve also submitted waiver applications.

“Monumental Sports & Entertainment … has submitted to the D.C. government our request and plan to safely allow fans back into the arena,” read a statement from Monica Dixon, an executive with Monumental Sports & Entertainment, the parent company of the Wizards and Capitals. “We appreciate Mayor Bowser and her administration’s diligence through this process.”

D.C. United’s return-to-stadium plan was OK’d later Monday afternoon. In a letter co-signed by Bowser and Dr. Christopher Rodriguez, the director of the Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, Audi Field will be allowed to operate at a 10% capacity.

The letter highlights several key components of United’s plan, including controlling and directing the ingress and egress points for fans at the stadium; minimizing congregation around restrooms or other outdoor spaces; prioritizing contactless and in-seat food and beverage service to reduce congregation; and the enforcement of the city’s coronavirus protocols, particularly mask-wearing and social distancing.

“HSEMA and DC Health will closely monitor your progress in carrying out the terms of this waiver, with the hope that we will be able to expand the stadium’s capacity in the near future,” the letter read. “This waiver approval is a critical first step in gauging the impact of having fans return to stadiums to enjoy the District’s teams.”

Earlier this month, Bowser asked fans to “be patient” during the wait for a return to stadiums. While the Washington Football Team momentarily allowed a limited number of fans at FedEx Field in Landover, Md., midway through the season, no professional teams within D.C. have hosted fans since the spread of the coronavirus in March 2020.

A crowd of 5,000 would fill Nationals Park at about 12% capacity, leaving Washington on the lower end of most MLB teams. However, 5,000 fans will mirror what Boston and New York are allowing. The Baltimore Orioles plan to allow 25% capacity — about 12,000 fans.

The Colorado Rockies can host 42.6% of Coors Field’s capacity, and the Texas Rangers will allow 100% capacity at Globe Life Field after Gov. Greg Abbott lifted the state’s mask mandate and allowed all businesses and facilities to open fully. Fans will be required to wear masks at Rangers games, though.

Bowser left the door open for stadium capacities in D.C. to increase during an April check-in date.

• Andy Kostka can be reached at akostka@washingtontimes.com.

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

Please read our comment policy before commenting.

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide