The whispers coming from those close to the situation say some fans will soon be allowed inside the Wells Fargo Center.
That will be joyous news to Flyers and Sixers fans who have been waiting to return for almost a year.
Dear fans: You don’t know how much you have been missed by players, coaches, and those who cover sports for a living. Without you, well, the games have had a hollowness to them.
The city announced Friday that the permitted capacity at the Wells Fargo Center had been increased from 250 to 500 people. That wasn’t a big deal because a typical (fanless) game in the current setup already has about 250 people in the building, including teams, staffers, arena workers, media members, and others.
To bring fans back, the Wells Fargo Center needs more than 500 to be permitted to attend. So fans won’t return until the state and the city of Philadelphia further lift the restrictions.
For the Flyers, that could happen as early as their next home game, March 7 against Washington.
The Flyers, Sixers, Eagles and Phillies are monitoring the situation. Outdoor venues can have 5% of capacity up to 2,500 people. The Phillies, for example, would be allowed 2,150 fans at Citizens Bank Park.
Flyers coach Alain Vigneault said it would be “huge” to have fans back because of the “atmosphere [they create] in the building and the energy they bring.”
Watching the Flyers’ home games in person this season has been akin to being a spectator at a beer-league game.
That has nothing to do with the play of the players on the ice. It has everything to do with an empty, soulless building.
It appears that is soon going to change, even if the building won’t have close to 20,000 fans in it.
Winger Joel Farabee said the team has heard that 10% of the building’s capacity will be able to have fans in March — that has yet to be confirmed by the state or the city — and that “we’re really excited to get the fans back. Obviously, that’s probably one of the best parts about playing in the NHL, the fans. As long as we can do it safely and everyone is taken care of, there’s no reason why we can’t have fans back in the building.”
The Wells Fargo Center has been virtually empty this season, but the arena has tried to generate some excitement by pumping fake noise through the speakers. Good intentions. Not always good execution.
Sometimes, the noise level has been intolerable, set way too high. The Flyers will be firing a shot and, by the “crowd’s” reaction, you’d swear it was a 2-2 game in the final seconds of Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Final — and not the second period of a rather pedestrian game in the early part of the regular season.
Buy, hey, at least it brings some personality, some atmosphere, to the games. You see, when the noise level is turned off for a bit and all you hear are the actions of skates, sticks, checks and the puck, it feels as if you are watching your friends or relatives in a pickup game.
It’s so quiet, the writers can hear their keyboard strokes echoing.
While watching the Flyers-Rangers game from my lower-level, press-row table Wednesday, I had my head down for about 30 seconds as I was typing away to beat deadline in the third period. There was no crowd noise — real or fake — and no collective groans.
When I did glance up from my computer, I noticed the Rangers had just scored, probably about 10 seconds earlier, to get within 4-3.
In the near future, when a couple thousand fans are back, it will be almost impossible not to know a goal had been scored. The crowd’s response will tell you and will replace the Twilight Zone feel these games now carry.
“It would be amazing if fans returned,” right winger Jake Voracek said. “That’s exactly what we play for, right? Obviously we got used to playing without fans. I would say the first couple games [with fans back], a lot of us are going to be a little nervous. … but it’s really exciting. I think everybody is kind of excited to get back to normal life a little bit.”
Fans are a major part of that normalcy.