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As the major North American leagues lurch toward a return to play this summer, fans are desperate to see them back on their TV screens. But with financial models depending on stadiums full of the beer-and-hot-dog-and-merch-buying masses, and players saying it might be tough to get pumped for a game if no one is cheering them on, leagues are gaming out how they might be able to bring in fans. Limit capacity to, say, 25 per cent? Institute physical distancing? No-touch food payments? Timed entrances and guided exits? Mandate face masks?

We canvassed superfans across Canada to hear how they feel about the return of sports, and what it might take for them to go back to the stadiums to cheer on their teams in person.

Clayton Imoo, Vancouver Canucks vlogger

Vancouver Canucks superfan Clayton Imoo shares a moment with the Stanley Cup during the 2019 NHL All-Star Weekend in San Jose, CA.

I want to put this into perspective. From the standpoint of having the money, having the time to be a season-ticket holder, I realize how blessed I am. A lot of people are suffering. But I will not shy away from saying I’d be one of the first to get back to games when I can.

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Maybe it’s just my nature, I really trust the health authorities, I trust that the NHL officials and the Vancouver Canucks organization will do everything in their power to ensure safety. As long as they don’t do it stupidly or blindly, as long as they do it properly, intentionally. I don’t worry about bringing the virus home to my family. I feel I’m healthy, my kids are healthy, my wife’s healthy. I don’t want to just sound like I’ll blindly go, but if it makes sense I will go and take proper precautions – whether they say you’ve got to wear a mask and you’ve got to sit two rows apart from the next person, or whatever! However they figure it out.

I could see a lot of things like staggered entrance times, or sitting one or two rows apart from each other, five seats apart from each other. I probably wouldn’t buy any food, to be safe, but I could see myself walking in, getting my temperature scanned, going in to sit at my seat, maybe using the restroom every intermission and then not really touching anything aside from the seat I’m on. But it’s easy for me to say that, because I’m trying to justify going, because I do want to get there quite badly.

Martin Shaff, Winnipeg Blue Bombers season-ticket holder

Winnipeg Blue Bomber superfan Martin Shaff (left) with friend Jay Diamond at the 2011 Grey Cup.

I go to the Labour Day game in Regina every year. A supplier of mine gets me tickets, and I couldn’t wait to go this year, with my Bomber Grey Cup-champion hat, just walking down the aisle – and everybody would just be quiet. I was so looking forward to that.

It’s a very trying time right now, because there’s lots of reports from all the major sports sectors about what they’re planning to do, and the prospect is obviously no fans in the stands because of different provincial regulations. Like, in Manitoba, they said there’s going to be no mass sporting events until Sept. 1, at least. So that puts a damper on things.

And it’s so important for teams. I mean, there’s lots of loud stadiums in the CFL and with no fans I wonder how the play is going to be. I’m sure you played sports growing up, you know what it’s like when there’s people cheering and the adrenalin rush you get. How does that happen now?

And, to be honest, to make it safe I think we’re going to see no fans in stands for possibly a year or longer. I won’t go personally unless I’m vaccinated.

Except, the company I work for has a suite at Investors Group Field. So I know if I go to a game in the suite, and I know exactly who’s in that booth and I know their health condition, I’m more apt to go. Because I already interact with them on a daily basis. That would probably be the only way I would go to a game without getting a vaccine.

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In the meantime, Netflix is getting a workout. I’m going for a haircut on Friday, so I’m looking forward to that. That’s my biggest outing in a week.

Lori Bursey, president, Friends of the Argonauts fan club

Lori Bursey, president of the Friends of the Argonauts fan club, next to the Grey Cup.

I live for Canadian football. I watch every game. I never miss a game. Not just the Argos. So, needless to say, what’s happened has been a massive disappointment. At the same time, I understand what’s going on in the world and I don’t want anybody’s health to be risked, and I understand why things have shut down. I can’t think of another sport that has more contact, close contact, than football. Once someone’s tackled, there’s this great big pileup.

For me to go back to games, it would take a huge decrease in the number of cases on a daily basis and a huge decrease in the number of deaths, obviously. And a confidence that I would have that the facility was absolutely sparkling clean, and that people were taking the necessary precautions. Nobody wants to go to a game when it’s 30 degrees outside and have to wear a mask, but if that’s what has to happen, that’s what has to happen. If that means going to a game and not eating or drinking anything, I would do it.

I hope the CFL can come out with a plan that will be satisfactory to everybody. People who love the CFL are sheer diehards. My concern is the logistics and the finances of the whole thing. They’re talking about hub cities, but my concern is the money that would cost. First of all, the American players coming in to the country would have to isolate, and then you have to house all these players and staff in hotels, pay for all the meals. It becomes a huge financial undertaking. And the testing – if you don’t pass, you go back into self-isolation for 14 days; it’s a logistical nightmare. And financially it’s not easy. The CFL doesn’t have money to throw around. That’s why we love it.

Marek Whitechurch, Montreal Impact fan

Superfan Marek Whitechurch in his element at a Montreal Impact match.

I come from London, my team that I followed in England is called Millwall FC, and the fans were very intense, and I kind of got brought up watching that team in the 1980s. When you go to the Impact, it’s a very aggressive and strong scene, but I’m kind of used to that.

I’ve been here about 15 years, I started going to the Impact when they were in the USL division, then when the Impact got into MLS I had season tickets and I was going up until the season before last. I go a little bit less now because games are on a Saturday and I usually have to work.

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When COVID came in it was my first time of actually having, like, two months off work – I own the salon, Monokrome, and it’s temporarily closed now, and I was like, ‘Ah, I can watch footb-! Oh, no, I can’t watch football, because everything’s suspended!’

But I’ve been watching football on TV now that it’s started up again, the leagues that have come back that are doing the no-fans-in-stadium, and it’s really soul-destroying. It just has got no atmosphere. The skill of play is really good, obviously, when you watch Bundesliga or whatever. But it really shows you the fans make the atmosphere, even on TV.

To do the social distancing at a football game is going to be very, very hard to do, even if they have half the amount of fans, or a quarter, if they have a seat in between everybody. Yeah, my business partner just shouted out ‘especially for English people,’ because we like to jump up and down. For me to go back I think is going to take a vaccine. Because I really don’t see, logically, how that can work with social distancing in place, to go to a football match. Because you’re with your friends, you’re drinking some beers, all of a sudden there’s a goal scored, you jump on your friends – do you know what I mean? As soon as you take that away, it becomes very sterile and kind of weird. Cheering by yourself with a two-metre thing around you? I don’t think it’s fun.

Harman Baweja, Josh Capulong, Ryan Ocol

Dance instructors and creators of Edmonton Oilers Celly Challenge dance

Oilers superfans and Edmonton dance instructors from left: Ryan Ocol, Josh Capulong and Harman Baweja, who created the Oilers Celly Challenge dance in 2018.

Harman: We did the Celly Challenge in 2018 and we actually talked about revamping it for the playoffs this year, but obviously that didn’t work out. We’ve talked about doing the quarantine or social-distance version of it. Just to kind of keep fans engaged.

Ryan: It feels like we’re a long ways away from fans being at games. I’m not a health professional. So I’m just going off of what Dr. Deena Henshaw in Alberta is saying. And if she says it’s good to go, then I’m going to obviously take her words into consideration. I want to be able to see the protocols and be like, ‘Okay, yeah, that seems like it’s safe.' I just want to make sure that there’s a standard that everyone can follow. So right now, it’s kind of just a waiting game.

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Josh: Once that green light is there, I’m in! I miss my hockey. I had Sportsnet NOW and I cancelled it because there’s nothing on. But there was an e-mail that said they were offering it as a free service because of everything that’s happened. So I resubscribed. But even if they double the price when hockey starts up again, I think I just miss hockey and sports in general so much that I’ll pay it.

Ryan: We haven’t been able to see each other, but we’ve been playing [the video game] NHL 20. We’re kind of getting our fix that way. But it’s just not the same. And we need sports to come back, because we’ve been playing against each other. We have heated battles. And friendships are being broken.

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