The Buffalo Sabres are reopening KeyBank Center to fans for select games, starting with the March 20 visit from the Boston Bruins, the team announced Thursday afternoon.
By New York State regulations, attendance will be limited to 10% of capacity, so approximately 1,900 fans will be admitted to the 19,070-seat arena. All fans will be required to follow state and local health/safety protocols – including proof of a negative PCR Covid-19 test taken within 72 hours before the game.
Season ticket holders will have the first opportunity to select seats. The team says more information on ticketing and testing will be communicated directly to fans in the coming days.
When fans were admitted to the Buffalo Bills' two playoff games last month in Bills Stadium, they were directed to a central testing site. Testing cost $63 per person, with cost reduced thanks to an agreement with the NFL's testing partner. The Sabres are still formulating how testing will work for their games and potential costs. That was a key reason that their first game with fans is set for late March.
The March 20 date is the first of 13 games the Sabres could conceivably offer to fans. It is, however, not expected that all will be made available, as the club is primarily expected to focus on weekend games. Fans have not been in the building to see the Sabres since March 9, 2020, when they beat Washington in the final game before the NHL season was prematurely ended by the pandemic.
The other NHL teams in the state are also admitting fans. The New York Rangers will have them back at Madison Square Garden starting Friday night against Boston – and thus for the Sabres' four visits this season, the first of which is Tuesday night.
The New York Islanders will start to admit fans for the final season in Nassau Coliseum on March 18. The Sabres will play there March 4, 6 and 7 without fans.
The New York teams are joining a group of NHL teams now allowing fans at limited capacities.
The Arizona Coyotes, Dallas Stars, Florida Panthers, Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues, Tampa Bay Lightning, Vegas Golden Knights and Columbus Blue Jackets have all admitted fans to this point. Dallas' capacity of around 5,000 in American Airlines Center is the highest in the league thus far.
The New Jersey Devils will have fans at Prudential Center in Newark, where the Sabres played Saturday and Tuesday, starting on March 2. Buffalo returns there March 16 and April 6.
Meanwhile, the Rochester Amerks have announced that they will not play with fans this year at Blue Cross Arena. Minor-league teams in both hockey and baseball are struggling with the concept of having limited numbers of fans because of the expense involved. Most would prefer no fans at all, rather than opening to limited capacity, and that was clearly the Amerks' decision.
"While we thank New York State for the willingness to open indoor arenas, the Amerks have elected to continue playing the 2020-21 season without fans at The Blue Cross Arena," the team said in a statement. "Our decision is based on capacity restrictions and the logistical challenges surrounding COVID protocols within a consolidated AHL schedule. We thank all of our fans for their continued support and look forward to the time when we can safely welcome them all back to The Blue Cross Arena."