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It’s starting to look like fans will return to Sounders games this year

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The trendlines towards vaccination-powered herd immunity continue to be good and more US states are allowing fans in outdoor stadiums.

With news breaking that the English Premier League will be re-allowing fans in their stadiums to end the 2020-21 season and the increasing likelihood that the United States will approach herd immunity in the summer, there is a reasonable chance that the sports teams of Washington will see fans in their stadiums — maybe even as early as April, when the Seattle Sounders will first take the pitch in 2021.

A not-yet-peer reviewed study of NFL and NCAA football games that allowed fans indicated there was no significant increase in spread of the novel coronavirus relative to similar locations that did not allow fans, IF fans and staff were masked, socially distant, and washed their hands. The science of the virus combined with vaccination efforts seem to indicate that a gradual opening of outdoor experiences is safe(ish?).

The list of states allowing fans inside stadiums is not entirely broken down by the red v. blue divide in approaches to Covid-19.

New Jersey will allow 15% capacity in stadiums with over 5,000 seats starting in March. That means the New York Red Bulls, Red Bulls 2, and Sky Blue FC will potentially be able to host some amount of fans when their seasons start. Colorado, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania are all states with Democratic governors that allowed fans at some point during the NFL season.

As recently as last week Sounders President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey told Sportsradio KJR that the Sounders have no timeline for the return of fans to Lumen Field. The Sounders ownership has been consistent in putting the onus for that decision on local, state, and federal health officials and politicians.

But there is some indication that sports fans in Puget Sound will be back soon. Former Seattle Mariners President Kevin Mather recently told the Bellevue Rotary Club that the baseball club has a plan for 20% attendance in 4-person pods that are socially distanced. Some of the distancing requirements may lower that 20% even further.

In the State of Washington, 12% of adults have received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. King County, where the vast majority of Sounders fans that attend matches live, was at 16% as of a week ago and was administering about 10,000 does per day, although the two satellite counties that most impact attendance (Pierce and Snohomish) are slightly behind that pace.

With a season-ticket base over 30,000, the return of fans in a limited capacity will create a challenge for the Sounders. If Lumen’s capacity is limited to 20% that means 13,854 fans, at most. About two-thirds of Seattle’s massive season ticket base would not be able to attend.

They are also unlikely to hit that maximum number because no soccer team in the United States has yet to hit their coronavirus-limited attendance number. People throughout the nation remain reluctant to attend large gatherings, and that maximum number assumes every pod has four people. There will not be a single switch that flips to go from unsafe to safe; instead the return to a full Lumen Field will be a gradual event defined as much by the emotional and rational state of fans as it is by local regulations.