Beginning in the postseason, the Hawks will increase fan capacity at State Farm Arena from about 3,000 to 7,625, which will put them at 43% occupancy.
They’ll be making a few notable changes to the arena’s setup, namely adding one section — about 500 seats — behind the existing courtside seating for fully vaccinated people, who will have to test negative upon entry and also wear masks. The Hawks are working on multiple options for people to provide proof of vaccination, in addition to showing a vaccine card.
Also, the advertising billboard behind team benches will be removed and replaced with plexiglass, with the lower section behind that opened up, as well. Suites and clubs will be opened up, with added plexiglass in certain areas.
Concessions will be expanded.
All safety protocols that the Hawks have instituted, including mandatory masks and social distancing, will stay in place. With the exception of the one vaccinated section not being spaced out, all other sections will continue to be distanced.
“Having a sense of normality, but safety, I think is a really important piece,” Hawks CEO Steve Koonin said. “The playoffs haven’t been in Atlanta in a while, and the demand is great for the tickets … We wanted to create home-court advantage for our team and our players, but we’ve learned so much since we set the initial protocols in November, that we felt very, very comfortable adapting to today’s environment rather than one that was eight months back.”
The Hawks are in position to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2016-17 season, and will aim to finish in the top 6 so they can avoid the play-in tournament (7-10 seeds), which they have already clinched a spot in. However, if they were to fall to the play-in, expanded occupancy will begin for those games, which start May 18.
Both the NBA and Dr. Kathleen Toomey, commissioner and state health officer for the Georgia Department of Public Health, have signed off on the Hawks’ plan to up attendance for the postseason.
The Braves, Atlanta United and Atlanta Motor Speedway all announced plans last week to open their facilities to 100% capacity.
The Hawks gave their employees the opportunity to be vaccinated, and also by the end of the regular season will surpass the NBA’s 85% fully vaccinated threshold to relax some COVID-19 restrictions for the team. They’re also continuing to run PSAs encouraging Georgians to get vaccinated.
“Our players are vaccinated, our staff is vaccinated, and we think it’s a very important point. ... We’re hoping this is just another incentive for people to get vaccinated so they can sit courtside, if they haven’t been vaccinated already,” Koonin said.
For months, the Hawks have been conducting research on how many of their season ticketholders are fully vaccinated, or how many planned to be fully vaccinated by May 1. They found that more than 80% said they met that criteria, per Koonin, and were encouraged by that high number.
In Georgia overall, as of Friday, 35% of residents have received at least their first dose, and 25% are fully vaccinated, according to GADPH’s vaccine dashboard.
“We’ve been tracking it for quite a while, and we’ve seen the growth in people’s interest and in their behavior, and it was significantly higher than the state as a whole and than the city as a while, and we took that as another encouraging (aspect), and it was part of our presentation to the NBA and Dr. Toomey,” Koonin said.
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