New York Sports Getting Their Fan Revival at a Time of Resurgence


In the coming weeks, fans will be allowed again in many stands across the Tristate Area, with nowhere better to begin than Madison Square Garden. (Courtesy of Twitter)

Ten months ago, when the entire world was taking the first blows from the COVID-19 pandemic, I wrote a piece for the Ram about what sports would be like once the United States overcame the virus. As a country, we had just seen our entire lives rapidly turned upside down — businesses and restaurants shut their doors, schools switched to virtual learning, supermarkets became the busiest places in town, outdoor spaces were left desolate and sports arenas suddenly went dark. For the sports fan, the need for words of hope was high, and so I depicted the feeling of seeing ESPN jam-packed with programming, with bright lights illuminating the arenas and the American spirit and the specific sounds of a game being sharper than ever before. 

While I may have nailed some of the points I made, it was apparent a few months after the article was published that something was missing. The ESPN Bottomline showcased its carousel rotation of the day’s sports matchups and events. Local teams did graduate from the bubbles and return to their respective arenas of competition. Once again, the sound of a crackling baseball bat or a basketball swishing through a hoop was personified by the great broadcasting voices on our televisions. Yet, we were still in the pandemic and one thing was preventing sports from truly being back: the fans.

Particularly in New York, the absence of passionate sports fans has been strikingly obvious. At a Yankees or Mets game over the summer, a home run blast by Aaron Judge or Pete Alonso did not ignite the same energy in the bleachers that was commonplace as fans nearly tackled one another for the fly ball. In Madison Square Garden, celebrity row has not been flashy, and what the Knicks surely miss the most is the fuel they receive from the renowned “Defense” chants that normally rain down from the rafters. No artificial crowd noise can serve as a replacement. 

Having sports back in our lives in any capacity, during a challenging time where we need those distractions, is certainly valuable. However, to truly welcome sports back to the cultural sphere, the fans need to return to their rightful place in the seats. Now, amid recent updates to COVID-19 procedures in New York state and the city, they can and there is no better and exciting time in New York sports to do so. 

On Feb. 10, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the state would allow a limited number of fans to attend sporting events at venues with 10,000 or more seats pending approval from the Department of Health. Starting Feb. 23, this allows teams like the Nets and Knicks to host up to 10% capacity for games. Plans have since been made by both teams to welcome back 300 and 2,000 fans to the Barclays Center and Madison Square Garden, respectively. The only requirements for entry to these venues are a PCR test with a negative result 72 hours prior and the use of face coverings.

Additionally, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy described to WFAN on Monday his state’s plan to have fans back in sporting venues at 10% capacity starting March 1. Murphy’s announcement means Giants and Jets fans will be able to watch their team hit the gridiron again this fall. 

With fans eagerly bracing to return to their favorite arenas to cheer on their beloved teams, the sports atmosphere in New York is at an all-time high, and the market is earning more attention than ever before. The excitement among the basketball culture in the city is incredible, as both the Knicks and Nets are putting out a thrilling product and showing results in the win column. The Knicks are finally relevant again, playing competitive basketball that has them in the playoff picture, and the Nets are among the top contenders in the NBA to win a championship. 

Since Tom Thibodeau took over as the head coach, the Knicks have become a defensive juggernaut, playing at a level that, if fans were present at the games, would have the Garden rocking. At 15-16 through 31 games this season, they sit in the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference and lead the league in three defensive categories — opposing points, field goal percentage and three-point percentage. Most importantly, the entire roster has bought into the team-first culture Thibodeau has established, and the additions of veterans like Derrick Rose have benefited the growth of the younger guards. 

On the other side in Brooklyn, the Nets are chasing a legitimate bid for an NBA championship. Highlighted by the big three — Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden — their offense is lighting up the stat sheet at a level that likely hasn’t been matched outside of the championship teams in Golden State of which Durant was also a member. Standing one game out of first in the East at 20-12, the trio has nixed concerns from many about their inability to share the ball and has shown that, when healthy, the sky is the limit. If there is any shortfall in the Nets’ game, it’s their 28th ranked defense that makes a first-round matchup with the Knicks a slight scare, but they have all the other intangibles to make up for that. 

Basketball may be the sport that’s making the most noise in New York due to both teams in the playoff mix, but there’s also hockey, and soon enough, baseball will return as well. In hockey, the Islanders are third in the East Division, with the Rangers only a few games behind despite their inexperienced roster. The Yankees and Mets will begin their season in due time, with both making offseason moves to bring in names like Kluber and Lindor who will strengthen their respective positions on their team. 

New York, like the rest of the United States, is not out of the woods with the pandemic yet. However, things are starting to look up. The vaccines have already been rolled out to some, sports have resumed and avoided further pause and now those same New York teams are getting their fans back. For weeks, players have mentioned what it would be like to have fans in the stands from an energy standpoint. Now the Knicks and Nets are the first to get that feeling Tuesday night against Golden State and Sacramento. It is an exciting moment at a time of sports resurgence, and there is no doubt the fans themselves can’t wait to get back into the action.