Sixers vs. Cavaliers: The In-Person Fan Experience
For most sports fans across the country, the past year has been full of unfortunate twists in every season. Many who found excitement and escape from live sporting events were no longer able to witness their favorite teams in action.
However, with COVID-19 cases dropping and weather warming, some venues are opening their doors to a limited capacity crowd.
I was fortunate enough to find affordable tickets to see my favorite basketball team, the Philadelphia 76ers, in Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse, an arena allowing only 25% attendance.
Never having been to a professional event with such little fans, I hadn’t the slightest idea what to expect.
One of the most seamless aspects of the entire evening (which normally is not the case) was parking. Without a large mass of fans attempting to swarm the arena at the same time, finding a spot was easy, fast and most importantly, cheap!
Entering the arena was a bit more challenging. Ushers, security guards and managers, decked out in face shields, masks and gloves, appeared to be infesting the outside of the venue. Few took no shame in yelling at fans to stay away from one another.
Gates opened a standard one hour before tipoff. Fans wearing gaiters were handed masks, told to walk outside and swap their face coverings before coming back. There was absolutely no tolerance for bags of any kind.
Gift shops could only hold a certain number of people, and if someone was hanging around the store a bit too long for a guard’s liking, they’d be asked to leave. The line outside the store refused to die down, even well after the game had ended.
Concession lines were also limited, making it difficult to find a time to grab a bite. Some stands had food prepackaged in an effort to avoid any potential contamination.
Even with nosebleed seats, an usher still demanded to check tickets and make sure my friends and I weren’t in the incorrect row. Seats were available in pairs of two, and even though I had a total of four in my group, we weren’t all able to sit directly next to one another.
There was protocol for consumption of food and beverage, displayed by a video showing fans to lift their masks up over their mouths even while still chewing. Those who didn’t obey were approached by security guards (which occurred on several occasions in my section).
Marketing and promotional aspects were not plentiful and most demonstrations such as dances, musical routines or hype displays were done so via jumbotron. Mascots were shown fully masked as well.
I found the excitement of the gameplay to be much lower than normal. Being a fan of the visiting team is usually a rush of adrenaline itself, but everyone watching the game stayed relatively mellow throughout the entirety of the matchup.
The Cavaliers came into the game with a record of 17-30, but had beaten the conference-leading Sixers twice previously in the season.
The Sixers, without star center Joel Embiid, were not in a great position to win the game early on. Scoring had gone back and forth and by halftime, the Sixers were only up two points. Still, with a close game on the line, the arena was quiet.
Philadelphia promptly pulled away towards the end of the third quarter thanks to Shake Milton’s dominant 27-point showout and Dwight Howard’s double-double.
Lamar Stevens, former Penn State forward, saw some action late in the game for Cleveland and even scored a layup. His court time was limited, however, following a wide open three-point attempt that unfortunately hit the side of the backboard.
Most, if not all of the strict guidelines set in place for the contest were disregarded in the mad dash out of the building. Fans crammed up against one another during the push out of the doors and there wasn’t much to be done to stop it.
Sixers fans were loudly rejoicing their victory in true Philadelphia fashion, which included some premature unmasking by several patrons. It was as if the entire game fans were just doing what they were told to avoid confrontation rather than taking protocol seriously.
Exiting by car, much like entering, was fairly effortless. The ride back to State College, on the other hand, not so much (who would’ve thought it would snow in April?).
Despite some extreme exhaustion after the journey, the game was absolutely worth the trip. Having practically an entire row to see the game to myself, no ravaging Cavalier-cult-followers in sight, and unbelievably easy access to the arena was a sports fan’s dream (especially since the Sixers won!).
Although everyone is waiting for the world to go back to “normal,” I’d highly recommend to see some live sports before it does.
Zach Martin is a sophomore majoring in broadcast journalism and finance. To contact him, email him @email@example.com.
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