Sports teams, festivals prepare to welcome back thousands of spectators
Step 3 of Ontario's reopening plan allows indoor and outdoor events with varying capacity limits
It's been almost 16 months since Ottawa residents have been able to join a large crowd at a live concert, professional sports match or other public events.
But that changes this Friday when Ontario enters Step 3 of its reopening plan, which not only allows these events to take place both indoors and outdoors, but sets considerably high capacity limits for spectators.
Organizers are welcoming the changes as they scramble to plan for the arrival of thousands of sports fans and music lovers.
"[It was] the news we were waiting for," said Mark Goudie, president and CEO of Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, which owns the Canadian football league team Ottawa Redblacks.
"Sports with no fans just doesn't feel like it's supposed to," Goudie said. "Being able to add a decent number of fans back to the mix is critical for the atmosphere and the vibe."
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Under the new rules, indoor sports facilities and performing arts venues can open to 50 per cent of their usual capacity, up to a maximum of 1,000 people.
Outdoor venues with fixed seating will be able to fill up to 75 per cent of their usual capacity, up to a maximum of 15,000 people. Outdoor events without fixed seating will be capped at 5,000 people, or 75 per cent capacity, whichever is less.
Goudie said being able to admit up to 15,000 fans to TD Place is enough to cover off Redblacks season's ticket holders. But he's hopeful that even more fans will be allowed in by the team's first home game on Aug. 28 — if case counts remain low and vaccinations continue.
"We could have many more than that, maybe close to a sellout by the time we get to opening night," said Goudie.
The Ottawa Blackjacks' first game with fans is July 17 and Atlético Ottawa has its first game ever in Ottawa scheduled for Aug. 14.
The beat goes on
Live music events are also becoming a reality.
Ottawa Chamberfest, which runs in late July, and the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival, scheduled for August, has already planned small in-person concerts at a variety of different locations — both outdoors and inside.
The jazz festival planned small, outdoor pop-up concerts at Confederation Park in downtown Ottawa as well as indoor events at the small venue, LIVE! on Elgin, and the National Arts Centre's Fourth Stage.
Chamberfest organized a mixture of distanced concerts and live-streamed events.
Those plans are now becoming more ambitious.
"We've gone from 20 people, socially-distanced, to ... let's say, 2,000," said Catherine O'Grady, the jazz festival's executive producer.
Carissa Klopoushak, artistic director of Ottawa Chamberfest, said the festival planned for a number of scenarios and that the new capacity limits provide clarity.
"As soon as there are real numbers, then it's this energy boost. We're now in hyperdrive," said Klopoushak.
But the shift to Step 3 doesn't mean everyone's favourite summer events will happen.
RBC Bluesfest, which would normally take place in July, has been cancelled.
"We were happy to see some new regulations or ideas on how we can do things going forward put out by the government last week," said Joe Reilly, spokesperson for Bluesfest, CityFolk and the Festival of Small Halls.
"The team that puts together the festivals is looking at this right now and seeing if we can make something happen."
Reilly said there is still hope the CityFolk, which normally takes place in September on The Great Lawn at Lansdowne Park, could possibly go ahead this year. But Reilly said planning a festival in two months or less will be extremely challenging.
"We're hoping we can get some events happening soon because people desperately need to get connected to the arts and music," said Reilly.