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Could the Buffalo Bills Provide Path to Get Islanders Fans into Games?



NHL New York Islanders fans at Nassau Coliseum

Could New York Islanders fans hope of being able to sit in Nassau Coliseum one final time to watch a hockey game get some help from a football team in upstate New York?

While the NHL is gearing up to open training camps in just over a week, up in Albany New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is working with the Buffalo Bills on a plan to allow up to 6,700 fans to attend the Bills’ first home playoff game in person. The plan, being devised by New York State and the Bills, would involve having fans entering the stadium to take rapid COVID-19 tests, with mandatory face-covering and social distancing. Tailgating would be prohibited.

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New York would become the first state to require COVID testing to allow fans into sporting events if the plan is approved.

So where do the New York Islanders and their fans come in? Well, should the state put this plan into effect it could open the door for this model to be used for other forms of entertainment venues, including NHL arenas.

The New York Islanders, along with the New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres, is expected to begin the 2020-21 season without fans in their arenas. The NBA returned to action this past week with the Brooklyn Nets hosting the Golden State Warriors in an empty Barclays Center, the Islanders’ former home rink.

If the Bills and Gov. Cuomo’s office are able to successfully pull off their plan, it’s easy to see NHL owners in New York exploring a similar path. Several markets, including Dallas, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Arizona and in Florida, could have fans in the building in a limited capacity.

Using the Bills’ number of 6,700, the Islanders could look at allowing 3,000 or so fans into the Nassau Coliseum for home games while keeping fans socially distanced, requiring face coverings and test fans for COVID-19 before they get into the building.

An inside view of the New York Islanders home arena

February 29, 2020- Uniondale, NY- Governor Andrew Cuomo makes announcement at NY Islanders Game in Nassau Coliseum (Darren McGee- Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)

Whether Islanders ownership would want to go down that route if it’s available is another element to consider. During an event at Long Island Jewish Medical Center on Monday, Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky told reporters that the health and safety of the players, staff and fans was the most important thing to the team.

“Coming to a game would be terrific,” Ledecky said. “That time will eventually arrive, but we are going to listen to the health authorities and the experts at each and every step.”

And the Buffalo Bills’ plan has caught some heat from state lawmakers. Sen. Sue Serino, R-Poughkeepsie, criticized the governor for prioritizing football fans over frontline workers.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz also told the Democrat & Chronicle in a statement that local health officials have been kept in the dark while the state and NFL franchise created their plan.