Hawks increasing to near-full capacity for playoffs

Hawks forward Danilo Gallinari (left) shoots over Chicago Bulls forward Lauri Markkanen (24) during the first half in an NBA basketball game at State Farm Arena on Saturday, May 1, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Caption
Hawks forward Danilo Gallinari (left) shoots over Chicago Bulls forward Lauri Markkanen (24) during the first half in an NBA basketball game at State Farm Arena on Saturday, May 1, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

The Hawks are increasing seating to near-full capacity at State Farm Arena beginning with their first-round playoff series vs. the Knicks.

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This comes on the heels of the CDC recently loosening guidelines for fully vaccinated people, which included ditching facemasks in many indoor situations. More NBA teams have started increasing capacity for the postseason: The Celtics announced Friday they will have near-full capacity beginning with Game 4 of their series vs. the Nets, the Heat will increase to 17,000 for their series vs. the Bucks and the Knicks announced Thursday they will host 15,000 fans at Madison Square Garden.

At State Farm Arena, there will be a combination of vaccinated and unvaccinated seating. Those in vaccinated sections within 15 feet of the court still will be required to wear a mask, per NBA protocols, but those sitting in vaccinated sections outside of that distance will not be required to wear a mask. If you’re in an unvaccinated section, you will be required to wear a mask.

A few rows behind the team benches will be blocked off, which is why it’s not quite full capacity (16,888), but near that mark, likely between 15,500 or 16,200 or so. Tickets are set to go on sale at noon Sunday. This will go into effect with the Hawks’ first home game in the series, Game 3, which is 7 p.m. May 28.

“Very, very excited. … It’s really all about vaccinations,” Hawks CEO Steve Koonin said. “Vaccinated sections. Vaccinations are causing the numbers to decline. There wasn’t a magic number that we had to hit to do this, but more importantly, we have the tools in vaccinations and vaccinated sections that allow us to put people shoulder to shoulder like the old days, or a year ago.”

The original plan was to allow 7,625 fans in for playoffs, which would put them at about 43% capacity, with one vaccinated section on the opposite side of the court from the team benches. But that evolved as vaccination efforts continued, and they’ve now added more vaccinated sections throughout the building. They also are adding more courtside seating, which will require proof of vaccination (showing a vaccine card), as will all the vaccinated seating.

Both the NBA and the Georgia Department of Public Health signed off on this plan, per Koonin.

“All season, we’ve followed protocols,” Koonin said. “We’ve had a very successful season. We learned a lot. Most importantly, we have no reports of people getting sick or infected in the building. Now it’s a different time and we see COVID-19 infection rates persistently dropping, which is great news. And we want to put as many people in our building, to create homecourt advantage, that we can safely put in the building.”