Lightning, Raptors to play without fans as COVID-19 cases rise

The Tampa Bay Lightning will open its 2020-21 season without fans due to a recent rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations across Hillsborough County and west-central Florida, according to Vinik Sports Group, LLC, the parent company of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

In a news release Saturday morning, Vinik Sports Group, LLC, announced that the arena will remain closed to fans through at least February 5, which also impacts the Toronto Raptors games.

The Toronto Raptors have been playing at Amalie arena since December. The team decided to play the season in Tampa instead of Canada because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Canadian government’s decision not to give pro-athletes an exception to cross the border. 

"We have worked tirelessly, putting every safety measure possible in place at Amalie Arena. However, as we review current data and COVID-19 modeling for the next few weeks in the Tampa Bay area, we do not believe it is prudent to admit fans inside the arena at this time," said Steve Griggs, Chief Executive Officer for Vinik Sports Group and the Tampa Bay Lightning. "Please note the decision to close Amalie Arena was made internally, without direction from local health or government officials.

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He added, "Our health care agency partners and the local governments have helped ensure that Amalie Arena is as safe and healthy as possible, but because of the increasing numbers and the rising positivity rates we are not comfortable bringing large numbers of fans indoors to watch hockey or basketball right now. We are hopeful to reopen the arena soon after we see declining rates and better overall numbers."

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The Lightning's first game of the season is scheduled for Wednesday, January 13 versus the Chicago Blackhawks at Amalie Arena. They are scheduled to play 56 games during the 2020-21 regular season, 28 of those at home in Amalie Arena. 

The team's last regular-season home game is scheduled for May 4 against the Florida Panthers.


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