On Sunday, May 9, the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Phoenix Suns 123-110. Purple and gold streamers fell from the rafters as Randy Newman’s classic “I Love L.A.” blared from the speakers. During breaks in the game, the overhead video screens displayed images of fans—many wearing homages to the late Kobe Bryant—dancing to Drake songs. Jack in the Box advertised two free tacos if the Lakers won and kept the Suns below 111 points. LeBron James was there, although he didn’t play due to an ankle injury. Also there: power forward Anthony Davis, who scored a game-high 42 points while grabbing 12 rebounds.
Basically, it was a typical night at Staples Center, the kind any fan might expect if they threw a dart at the team’s schedule and decided to attend that game. Except, wait, no, something was different. Something was better. There was hardly anybody there.
Rather than the usual Staples Center atmosphere—moving sideways in your seat to allow others to pass, long concession lines, dirty bathrooms, claustrophobic elevator rides, and the misery that is entering and exiting an expensive adjacent parking structure before and after the game—May 9 was easy in every way. Parking at L.A. Live was $15 and the line that asks fans to remove their belongings and walk through a metal detector had no one in it.
Once inside the arena, the atmosphere was akin to watching the JV squad before the varsity game, and I mean that as a compliment, not an insult. Not only was parking and getting into Staples Center laughably easy but the fans inside were diehards who wanted to be there. I wore a flannel shirt, jeans, and Vans and felt like I was in the minority because everyone else was decked out in purple and gold.
From my seats in the San Manuel Club—thanks, Danny—I could hear more of the game than I could have with a capacity crowd. The best part? There was no one around. Besides my friend who gave me the tickets (who sat two booths away), the closest people to me were seven booths away and those were the Laker Girls. A few fans sat courtside, approximately ten feet from the sideline. Behind one basket were maybe 30 people in what appeared to be folding chairs. Entire sections of the 100s seats were covered by tarps. Some people lounged in the final rows, unable to see but happy to be there.
When the Staples Center reopened in April, it launched with a capacity limit of 2,000 people, which is less than the 25 percent indoor capacity allowed by Los Angeles County. (Neither the Clippers nor the Lakers responded when asked whether capacity would increase for playoff games.)
Anthony Bentancourt says his experiences at three Dodgers games this season were similar. The 35-year-old Azusa resident describes the atmosphere at limited-capacity games as “amazing” due to smaller crowds and fans “decked out in gear and so happy to be back in the stadium.”
“I feel lucky to have experienced it because I do not think it will ever like this at a Dodgers game again,” Bentancourt says. “The only reminder of reality is the cost of the concessions as they are higher than ever, which I imagine is an effort to recover millions of lost revenue. It was still worth the extra bucks for a beer to experience the relatively empty stadium.”
Similar to my experience at Staples Center regarding social distancing, Bentancourt says he had at least six feet between him and others in the reserve section, but “it felt more like eight to ten.”
“I was using multiple cup holders all around me for the several beers we had,” Bentancourt says.
Equally—if not more—important than the games themselves is the relative ease with which fans can access Dodger Stadium. Getting into the parking lot took less than five minutes, Bentancourt says, and the lines to enter the stadium took the same amount of time.
“Getting in and out was the easiest I have ever experienced in my life,” Bentancourt says.
As with most good things, the easy breezy nature of pre-post-pandemic sports won’t last. On Friday, the Dodgers announced that the stadium will return to full capacity on June 15, when the state reopens.
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