Lansing sports teams prepare for limited attendance in 2021 season
The newly christened Jackson Field won’t be at 100% capacity when the Lansing Lugnuts play their home and season opener on May 4. But the Michigan health department’s latest orders help pave the way for at least some fans to attend their games.
The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced Friday that it’ll allow 20% capacity at outdoor venues. In addition, those venues must:
- Limit gathered groups to six people
- Stagger entrances and exits
- Enforce wearing masks whenever a person isn’t eating or drinking
- Collect contact information from each person for contact tracing purposes
It’s not ideal, but it’s better than nothing.
“If this is what we have to do in order to have fans and play baseball, then this is what we shall do,” said Jesse Goldberg-Strassler, the Lugnuts’ radio broadcaster, who also handles the team’s media relations.
Jackson Field’s capacity is 11,000, which leaves the Lugnuts able to admit 2,200 fans per game. Those orders end on April 19, however, and the number could increase or decrease before the May opener.
“The expanded capacity is contingent upon following the MDHHS’s infection control plan protocols outlined in Enhanced Outdoor Stadium and Arena Guidance,” Lugnuts general manager Tyler Parsons said.
Regardless, the Lugnuts will be ready to handle whatever the regulations call for.
There was no Lugnuts baseball last year due to the pandemic, but they did host the Lemonade League for college players during the summer. And the guidelines were strict: fan attendance limited to 100 for 20 games, fans spaced out in left field for proper social distancing, and a specific entrance on Cedar Street as opposed to the main gates off Michigan Avenue.
“That experience of opening up the stadium for a limited amount of fans, making sure that everything was as safe as possible … doing what we needed to do in order to make things safe, I feel that we are prepared for this upcoming season,” Goldberg-Strassler said.
There’s a lot of new with the Lugnuts this season, not just with attendance. They have a new team affiliation (Oakland, from Toronto), league (High-A Central, from Midwest League) and a new stadium name (Jackson Field, previously named Cooley Law School Stadium.
They will not be the only Lansing professional sports team playing in an outdoor venue this summer, as Lansing Common Football Club begins its inaugural season in May. It’ll play its matches at Eastern High School’s turf field, which holds a capacity of 1,500, meaning – at the moment – Lansing Common would only be allowed 300 fans for its home matches.
The restrictions are a challenge, especially for a soccer team in its first season of existence, but team officials have been preparing for limited attendance and social distancing guidelines all along, said president Eric Walcott. The six-to-a-group rule affects soccer differently than most sports, with its supporters’ group unable to sit together in a full pack.
Even though the bleacher capacity at Eastern is 1,500, the stadium can hold more than that, with fans’ ability to stand along the fenceline that surrounds the field. So that may adjust how many patrons Lansing Common will let in through the gate.
“We’re getting clarification on that,” Walcott said. “Right now, we’re making plans based on that 300 number, but also expecting that’s probably going to change before the season starts and during the season, so we’re trying to be flexible, too, as we make those plans.”
The health orders are just another part of the process for a team starting from the ground up.
The club announced its agreement with Eastern on March 8. And Lansing Common is still adding players to its roster, as the first four signings were announced on Feb. 16. It’s currently up to 14 players.
“We want to be as cautious as we need to be and take the pandemic seriously, even as vaccinations are increasing,” Walcott said.
“It definitely adds to the workload, but we’ve had a lot of time to plan for it so we feel like we’ll be pretty prepared for that.”
Lansing United will face the same attendance crunch at East Lansing Soccer Complex when its season begins this summer. As will every spring high school sport and MSU’s spring sports, the latter in part with the Big Ten Conference.
Even though the Lugnuts don’t start play until May, Jackson Field won’t be dormant in April. The Lugnuts are turning the field and concourse into a par-3, nine-hole golf course from April 8-11 and calling it the Grand River Country Club.
The four-day event is open to individuals ($30 for 9 holes) and foursomes ($100 total for 9 holes).
“It’s a great opportunity for us to continue to get experience and make sure everybody is safe and using our field in the month of April, as we still have time before baseball,” Goldberg-Strassler said.