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Nets prioritize vaccinations in upping Barclays Center capacity for post-season

2015 All Star Saturday Night Photo by Randy Belice/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s all about the vaccine. In talking with reporters Thursday morning, Nets CEO John Abbamondi was out front with what the Nets want to do: entice the unvaccinated to get the shot(s) ... and fill the arena for the playoffs.

“We’re not neutral on the question of vaccines,” said Abbamondi. “We are in lock-step with the Governor on this and we are trying to nudge people to get vaccinated. We are really trying to encourage our fans to get vaccinated and encourage fans who are already vaccinated to come out,” said Abbamondi. “We just don’t want to create too many unvaccinated sections because we’re trying, in our small way, to nudge people’s behavior.”

To that effect, said Abbamondi, Barclays will provided more seats for the vaccinated than the unvaccinated, providing those who’ve been jabbed with more freedom — no masks, not social distancing — while providing the Nets with an ability to fill more seats as restrictions on social distancing and other restrictions start to fade away.

“There will be multiple vaccinated sections. There will be a number of unvaccinated sections. We recognize that we do have some unvaccinated fans and we want to enable them to come to the games too, but they’re going to be limited,” said Abbamondi on unvaccinated sections.

He also admitted there will also be a price differential. Barclays Center will be charging more for unvaccinated section tickets than vaccinated section tickets, another incentive.

“We’ve deliberately kept our tickets candidly below market value. We are trying to make the building as accessible as possible for all of our vaccinated fans,” Abbamondi said. “We’re charging more for unvaccinated sections. We want people to be vaccinated.”

Abbamondi didn’t have a number for the fans who he thinks will be in attendance for Game 1 of the Nets-Celtics first-round series — hinting at an estimate of 10,000 fans. (Madison Square Garden with similar breakdowns for vaccinated and unvaccinated expect up to 15,000 but MSG has a much larger capactity for basketball.)

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Monday that the Barclays Center, along with the Garden, would be able raise their capacity from 10 percent to at least 50 percent and likely more depending on the vaccinated/unvaccinated breakdown.

While the arena could theoretically open up full capacity if everyone attending was vaccinated. Abbamondi said the Nets have yet to determine sections split.

“On Monday, we got word that the Governor was going to allow us to essentially go to full capacity if everyone in the building was vaccinated. We can do that on a section-by-section basis, so if we make every section vaccine mandatory, we can fill every seat in Barclays. We are going to allocate some of our seats to unvaccinated sections where we have to socially distance people and that winds up being 25 percent capacity in those sections,” Abbamondi said.

“The thing we are solving for right now is what’s the mix of sections and we’re making those decisions in real-time based on what we’re hearing from our fans. We’re waiting and designating sections as we go, but I’d be reluctant to make a prediction right now as to how many folks are going to raise their hands and say I’m fully vaccinated versus unvaccinated, Abbamondi added. “Those conversations are ongoing.”

Bottom line: Abbamondi said the organization fully understands the hesitation or other factors that prevent individuals from getting the vaccine but are encouraging fans to get vaccinated and for the fans who are already vaccinated to come out and watch the action.

“We understand and I certainly as a human being understand that many people have very legitimate reasons why they might not want to get a vaccine. People that have genuine held religious objections. There are people that have allergies or other health issues that would prevent them from getting vaccinated. That’s why it’s important for us as a business to offer those people an option.

“Having said that, all the research shows there’s a large amount of people that are open to getting the vaccine and just having gone around it doing it yet. We are just trying to nudge those people and if you are thinking about doing this, go get it done. We’ll make it as easy for you as possible and there’s going to be a lot of benefits immediately.”

The Nets CEO said ultimately attendance will be determined by how many unvaccinated sections need be implemented and how many tickets can be provided in those sections as vaccinated sections will include more seats to be sold.

“We are putting up different sections for sale on an hourly basis and we’re making a decision before we release each one. If we make it a vaccinated section, there’s a whole bunch of seats to sell and if it’s an unvaccinated section, there’s about 25 percent of the seats we can sell because we have to space everyone out,” Abbamondi said.

Although the Nets are nudging individuals to get vaccinated, Abbamondi and Mandy Gutmann, the Nets Senior Vice President, Communications and Community Relations, said the organization has not spoken to players about using their voice to help spread the message of vaccination. (The Nets are prohibiting by medical privacy laws from disclosing who among the Nets player have been vaccinated.)

James Harden, who has been vocal about his excitement to have fans back in the building, announced Thursday that he will be covering 50 percent of playoff tickets for a limited time. Take a look for yourself.

To further increase vaccinations, the Nets CEO said the organization partnered with the New York City Mayor’s office and DocGo to open a COVID-19 vaccination site for qualified individuals ages 12 years or older at the abandoned Modells space — at 140 Flatbush Avenue across the street from Barclays Center — beginning on Saturday, May 22. Vaccines will be available for eligible New Yorkers and ticketed fans.

“We are vaccinating people the day before the day of at that former Modells space. We’re working with our testing partner, who also does vaccines, and for people who get vaccinated, they will be able to enter and be eligible to win some playoff tickets. We are incentivizing people to come out and get vaccinated at that location,” said Gutmann

Outside of scheduling appointments at the new site, walk-in appointments will also be available on a first-come, first-serve basis, he added. All individuals who get vaccinated will also receive a complimentary Net t-shirt and can enter to win Nets playoff tickets.

In addition, the Nets will also work with the Mayor’s Office to provide complimentary playoff home game tickets to 100 fully vaccinated Nets fans who reside in the 33 neighborhoods that have been identified by the Take Force on Racial Inclusion and Equity.

“We are also giving away tickets to residents and neighborhoods that have been identified by the task force on racial inclusion and equity, which is a mayor initiative to target 33 neighborhoods that have been hardest hit from the pandemic and low rates of vaccination,” Gutmann said. “We’re using those tickets in those neighborhoods as incentives for people who have been vaccinated.”

There will be no change in the testing protocol for postseason games at Barclay Center with the main goal being forging a safe environment for all individuals in attendance. All individuals who enter the building will be required to provide evidence of full vaccination status and there are a handful of different ways of doing so.

“Everybody who comes in the building will either provide proof of full vaccination status and they can do that in a number of ways — CDC cards, Excelsior pass. Those are the two main ways, or they have to provide evidence of a negative test — We have been offering those tests to fans at no additional charge at our building, which has been quite a big operation,” said Abbamondi on proof of testing and protocols of testing.

“With the increased capacity for Saturday and throughout the playoffs, we have taken over additional space across the street at the old Modells to set up an additional testing center there for the fans that will need it. We are not just trusting people. We’re going to respectfully ask for evidence of vaccination status.”

Young adults and children who aren’t yet eligible of getting the vaccine and plan on attending a postseason game at Barclays will need to test negative regardless of their parent or their adult guardian’s vaccination status.

“With all of this stuff, we are being super thoughtful following the state and federal guidelines, so what I’m about to articulate is directed by the state. The rules for being seated in a vaccinated section is everyone 16 or over must be fully vaccinated. Minors who are under 16 can sit in a vaccinated section even though they are unvaccinated if they are 1) accompanied by a fully vaccinated adult. 2) they test negative for the coronavirus. Those are the rules,” said Abbamondi on minors entering the building.

“If you wanted to bring our child out and your child was 10 years old, you’re fully vaccinated and your child isn’t eligible for the vaccine, they can sit with you but they have to be with you and they have to be tested.”

While vaccinated fans can watch mask-less, Barclays Center will require all attendees regardless of vaccination status to wear a mask in all common areas during the postseason.

“Everybody and all patrons will be required to wear masks whenever they are in common areas — entrances, concourses, restrooms, concession stands etc — everyone regardless of vaccination status will be required to wear a mask,” Abbamondi said.

Unlike the regular season, all concession stands and services will be open instead of the limited number we’ve seen.

“Our strategy now is to open everything up. Every concession stand, every bathroom, and fixture will be open because, with more people in the building, you’ll be creating lines,” Abbamondi said. “We don’t want that either, so let’s get them in and out of the bathroom, in and out of the concession stands as quickly as we can, and then get them back to their designation seating area.”

Beyond the pandemic restrictions, Abbamondi and the Nets are expecting a dramatic growth in season ticket holders for the 2021-22 season and have been receiving a tremendous response from those individuals throughout the season.

“Given that everything that has been going on in the world, the response from our season ticket holders and fans has been tremendous,” Abbamondi said. “We will dramatically grow our season ticket base next year.”

The Nets superstar talent is the clear catalyst for the foreseeable growth in that category. The blooming business end factors have been evident already as the Nets CEO said the ratings on YES Network have doubled since the 2019-20 season.

“There’s a few tangible things. Our ratings for our games on the YES Network basically doubled versus last year. That’s in a year when most properties have seen their ratings decline,” Abbamondi said. “For whatever reason, the pandemic seems to have disrupted people’s normal viewing schedules. We’re up a lot in a year most people are down. It’s been tremendous.”

The Nets players are super excited to have larger crowds behind them for the postseason and Abbamondi and the organization is hopeful Saturday will be the beginning of great experiences moving forward.

“Our players are super excited to have large crowds back at Barclays and we are laser-focused on doing everything we can to make sure it’s a safe and comfortable environment for everybody. We’re excited to welcome them back on Saturday and think it’s going to be a great experience.”

One that will encourage fans to get vaccinated!