Fans in orange and black yelled “Let’s Go Flyers” when the team was struggling to score on Saturday night. When the Flyers took the lead in the third period, the Wells Fargo Center spectators chanted a negative sentiment or two, to make clear they weren’t Sabres fans. As the buzzer sounded on the 3-1 win over Buffalo, the Flyers’ ninth-straight victory, fans high-fived and embraced. Moments later, underneath the arena, reporters huddled around players in the small, humid locker room.
As some NHL teams increased coronavirus precautions on Saturday, the Flyers and their fans carried on as usual. By all appearances, at least for two-and-a-half hours, there was no panic or anxiety over the virus that has sickened more than 100,000 people worldwide and more than 500 in the United States.
Perhaps in coming weeks, precautions will escalate and games will be postponed or canceled or played without fans. Perhaps it’ll never come to that. For now, the Flyers are standing by.
“We are monitoring the situation closely in coordination with the [federal Centers for Disease Control], local public health officials, our league partners, and live event promoters,” Wells Fargo Center representatives said in a statement. “The safety and well-being of our guests, athletes, staff and partners is paramount, and we have strengthened our rigorous sanitation processes and procedures throughout the arena. We will continue to collaborate with our medical and safety teams and act accordingly as the situation develops.”
Over the weekend, the league deferred decisions on locker-room access to the teams, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said Saturday. He indicated a league-wide closed locker room policy could be the next step, according to ESPN.
In New York, the Islanders and Rangers became two of the first pro teams in North America to close their locker rooms to reporters after games. Interviews were instead done in a more formal setting. “We cannot control the amount of press that go in the room, who have credentials, who come from everywhere," Islanders president Lou Lamoriello said, according to the New York Post,
The Minnesota Wild also closed their locker room.
Last week, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told ESPN the league was preparing for a wide variety of scenarios in the event that the threat of coronavirus intensified. Those scenarios could include canceling or postponing games, or playing games without fans in attendance.
“I think it’s very unlikely — knock on wood, I’m hopeful — that we would progress to a stage where we have to consider something that dramatic,” Daly said. “But certainly everything is possible, and we have to look at all possible contingencies. If it gets to that point, we will be ready.”
The closings of some NHL locker rooms came as the NBA informed teams of coronavirus contingency plans, which also include playing in empty arenas. Reports indicated they too may close off locker rooms. On Sunday, the Sixers postponed its Youth Foundation Gala, which was scheduled for Monday, as a coronavirus precauation.
At spring training in Clearwater, Fla., Phillies players were advised not to sign autographs. The MLB has not yet made any changes to its media access policies.
The MLS has advised players, including those on the Philadelphia Union, to limit contact with fans in wake of the virus’ spread. The Union also postponed a “Meet the Team” event scheduled for this week.
An NCAA official told the Wall Street Journal that March Madness will go on but could be played without fans in a “worst-case scenario.”
Around the world, sporting events have been disrupted by the spread of the coronavirus. The ice hockey women’s world championship scheduled later this month in Nova Scotia was canceled Saturday. In Italy, which is at the center of the European outbreak, all sporting events will be played without fans until April 3.