For over a year, the stands at the Moda Center have been empty. Tonight, fans are invited back into the Moda Center to cheer on the Portland Trail Blazers.
The last time fans were allowed to watch the Trail Blazers in person at their home court was at their March 10, 2020 game against the Phoenix Suns. No one knew it would be the last time fans would be allowed in the arena for more than a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly 20,000 people attended, including Matt Arbaugh.
“I don’t miss a lot of things about pre-times, I’ve gotten pretty adapted,” Arbaugh said. “But live sports, in particular, is something I miss a lot.”
Arbaugh and his family are attending the Blazers game on Friday. It’s the first game at the Moda Center in over 400 days. The game against the rival Los Angeles Lakers is only allowing 10% capacity or around 1,900 people. Arbaugh says attending this game is an exception to his normally cautious behavior since the pandemic hit.
“I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t some nervousness,” He said.
After going over the safety precautions that the Moda Center has in place, and with him and his family vaccinated, he feels safe. Arbaugh has been a Blazers fan since he was a kid, in fact, he has a tattoo of Blazer’s point guard Damian Lillard on his shoulder.
“No matter where I’ve lived I’ve been a fan,” Arbaugh said. “I’m loyal to my core.”
It was Lillard who tweeted on Tuesday that Blazers were going to be the only team in the NBA without fans. Not long after, the announcement came that Friday’s game would allow fans. Trailblazers CEO and president Chris McGowan says the timing wasn’t a coincidence.
So we gone be the only damn team in the whole league with no fans .— Damian Lillard (@Dame_Lillard) May 4, 2021
“I think it brought a lot of attention to it, it helped,” McGowan said. “The wheels were turning and the ball was in motion in terms of getting the approval, but I think that created a lot of conversation that accelerated it a little bit.”
McGowan says safety is at the forefront of Friday’s game. In addition to reduced capacity, no more than six people can sit together, there will be rows of empty seats between parties and everyone must wear a mask.
“We want to get these protocols in place and get really good at it because we anticipate that as the situation improves we’ll be able to ramp up capacity and have even more than 10% in the arena at some point,” McGowan said.
As to when that could happen, it’s up to the Oregon Health Authority.
Still, McGowan says the Moda Center has already been looking to the future of other events at the venue.
“The message to the concert touring business is that Portland is now open,” McGowan said.
For right now, McGowan is hoping the fans will benefit the players. Traditionally, they have benefitted from a home-court advantage, but this season their home record is worse than their record on the road.
“We’re hopeful that the situation improves in time for the playoffs,” McGowan said. “Home court advantage is super important and the more of our awesome fans we can get in the door, the better.”
Arbaugh says he will certainly be elated when he and his family step inside the Moda Center to watch the Trail Blazers, especially after over a year away.
“The Moda Center is my happy place. I love being there, and I love going with my family,” Arbaugh said. “It’s just exciting because it’s live, it’s happening. This is going to be that times one thousand.”
The Trail Blazers tip-off against the Lakers is at 7:00 pm.