- The Washington Times - Monday, May 10, 2021

As the Capitals enter the playoffs and the Wizards push to secure a play-in place, they’ll soon have more fan support behind them. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser approved waivers to allow more fans to attend games at Capital One Arena, beginning Friday with the Wizards’ home game against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Additionally, the mayor approved opening up Nationals Park for more fans beginning May 14, although the Nationals will embark on a two-series road trip at the end of this week and won’t play at home until May 21.

Capital One Arena will go from 10% capacity to 25% capacity on May 14. Nationals Park will see a rise from 25% to 36%. Bowser also announced Monday that by June 11, all coronavirus-related capacity restrictions at bars, nightclubs and large sports and entertainment venues will be lifted.

“We are grateful to Mayor Bowser for allowing us to welcome more fans into Capital One Arena in time for the playoffs,” Ted Leonsis, founder and CEO of Monumental Sports & Entertainment, said in a statement. “Russell Westbrook is making all-time history in the NBA as Bradley Beal is chasing the NBA’s lead scoring record for the season. And the Caps are in the postseason for the seventh consecutive season. We are thrilled to have the best fans in sports together with us again to see these excellent teams chase championships!”

At Capital One Arena, the 25% capacity limit will equate to about 5,000 fans per game. The Washington Mystics also received a waiver for 25% capacity at the Entertainment and Sports Arena, going into effect for the team’s home opener on May 15.

The 36% capacity limit at Nationals Park will allow for about 14,000 fans to attend games. The team has averaged 7,691 fans in 15 home games, slightly below the current 25% capacity restriction. Washington won’t be able to expand to 36% until the Baltimore Orioles visit for a three-game series May 21 through May 23.

“We want to thank Mayor Bowser and her administration for their partnership and collaboration over the past several months as we worked together on a safe and comprehensive plan to get fans back into the ballpark,” the Nationals said in a statement. “Our organization will continue to work diligently to ensure the safety of our players, staff, and fans as we welcome everyone back to Nationals Park.”

Face masks are still required at Capital One Arena, and they must be worn when not actively eating or drinking. Repeated non-compliance of the mask mandate will lead to removing the fan from the stadium.

Electronic ticketing will also remain. So will seating pods, with tickets sold in groups of one to four seats staggered throughout the arena to maintain six-foot distancing. All food and drinks purchased at concession stands must be consumed while seated in the ticketed seat.

Some food and drinks will be available to purchase from roving vendors accepting cashless payments, a change from the previous protocols.

“I think it’s fantastic,” Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said. “The fact that we get to bring more of our fans into the building, and I know from — I haven’t experienced it as the head coach of the Washington Capitals yet, but I’ve been in this building plenty of times, and I know the energy that comes in here and I know how loud it can get, and I know how passionate these fans are. And I’m excited to be a part of that, and on the right bench to enjoy it.”

The NHL playoff schedule hasn’t been finalized but could start this weekend or next week. So if Laviolette wants to experience a full crowd for the playoffs, Washington would need to make a deep run.

“Well, that would be a good plan,” Laviolette deadpanned.

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

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