Capital One Arena Credit: Kelyn Soong

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Monica Dixon, the president and chief administrative officer of external affairs at Monumental Sports & Entertainment, figured the organization’s attempt to host fans at Capital One Arena this season was over. The D.C. government did not grant a waiver to allow the indoor arena to host fans like it did for Nationals Park and Audi Field, both outdoor venues, in mid-March. On April 5, Mayor Muriel Bowser did not include information on MSE’s waiver during her media briefing as Dixon had expected.

In response, Ted Leonsis, the company’s chief executive, wrote a letter expressing his disappointment.

“The issue really was that if we didn’t receive the waiver April 5, the next opportunity we would have is May 5 and our last game was two weeks later,” Dixon tells City Paper. “So we were really disappointed that we would not be able to have fans in for the end of the season. And that ignited a pretty intense amount of conversation over the next four days.”

Eventually, the city granted Capital One Arena a waiver on April 9, allowing it to host fans at 10 percent capacity (or 2,100 individuals per game) for Washington Wizards and Capitals games with strict pandemic-related guidelines in place. Fans will be allowed in the stadium starting tonight when the Wizards play the Golden State Warriors, and the Capitals will compete in front of their fans starting on Tuesday, April 27.

The last time Capital One Arena had fans in the arena was March 10, 2020 when the Wizards beat the New York Knicks, 122-115. Dixon says that MSE will apply for a waiver to raise the capacity limit to 25 percent for the NBA and NHL playoffs. The Caps lead the NHL’s East Division, while the Wizards are in contention for the NBA play-in tournament after winning five straight games.

“It was a lot of planning for multiple scenarios so that we could be ready no matter what came at us,” Dixon says. “And what we learned is that we were going to have to wait until the transmission rate got to a level that there was comfort on the part of the D.C. health department. And we’re so excited that we’ve gotten to this place right now, when both our teams are doing so well and really moving toward the playoffs. So even though it’s been a very long process, I think it couldn’t have happened at a better time for us.”

A map showing the designated entrances at Capital One Arena Credit: Kelyn Soong

Several major policy changes have been implemented for fans who plan to attend a game at Capital One Arena this season. All individuals age 2 and older will be required to wear a face mask at all times except when actively eating or drinking. Gaiters, face masks with valves or vents, costume masks, and bandanas are not acceptable face coverings. All tickets will be electronic, and fans will enter the arena in one of four designated entrances. Wandering between the floors will not be allowed. Bags will not be permitted, except “wallet-size clutches no larger than 4.5″ x 6.5″, medical bags, and parenting bags” no larger than 14″ x 14″ x 6″. (Bag policies at sports stadiums, including Nationals Park, have proven to be extremely unpopular among fans.)

“That’s a big change,” Dixon says about the bag policy. “But you know, again, it just goes back to our No. 1 priority, to eliminate congregation coming into the building, exiting the building, and anywhere when fans are not in their seats.”

Not all of the usual food options will be available but all concessions stands that are open will offer the same pre-packaged options, regardless of the level. Limited food and beverage options will be available from roving vendors who will only be completing cashless transactions. Alcohol sales at the concession stands will be cut off at the end of the second quarter for Wizards games and midway through the second period for Capitals games, in accordance to the waiver rules, while roaming vendors will continue to sell alcohol until the start of the fourth quarter of Wizards games and at the start of the third period of Capitals games.

Dixon says MSE’s goal is to be at 100 percent capacity for next season, but for now, players like Wizards star Bradley Beal are looking forward to having more than just cardboard cutouts in their home arena.

“We go from not having fans at all to we’ll have some in the building. It’ll be an adjustment. We’ll probably be a little jittery or excited,” Beal said after the team’s 119-107 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder on April 19. “But that’s what we’ve been looking forward to … It’s good to be able to see faces besides these cardboard cutouts. I’m definitely happy and excited about it. We get our fans back. We experience that on the road with a lot of teams with their fans, so it’ll be good to be able to have some home-court advantage.”