How Sharks plan to reopen SAP Center after coronavirus shutdown ends


Like the rest of the sporting world, the Sharks are waiting to reopen and planning for what that might look like in the wake of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

For Sharks president Jonathan Becher that question has a lot of moving parts. The Sharks assume that SAP Center will be one of the last buildings in the NHL to open back up for games, and they currently are planning for several different scenarios.

"Here's the way I think about it: We don't know when we'll be back," Becher told ESPN. "We don't know what the rules are when we get back. But we can guess 8-10 likely scenarios. For example, we already know how to put on a game with full fans. That's the best-case scenario. We also had to model how to put on games with no fans in the building, which is something we were almost forced into doing."

The Sharks were prepared to play a game without fans March 19, but the NHL boarded up its season a week earlier.

"Scenarios like if there's no fans, and it's TV-only," Becher told ESPN. "There's no fans, with just TV and radio. A TV broadcast truck requires a bunch of people. Maybe we're allowed 250 people, roughly -- that's a crew, coaches, doctors on-site and other things. The minimum number of people is a lot more than you'd think. And it's a big building."

One of the bigger variables in every scenario is how many fans will be allowed in and how the Sharks will get them through the gates and to their seats safely in a manner fitting with the direction of public health officials.

"What if, on top of that, the only people you're allowed to have are ones in suites, because all the suites have glass enclosures on them and they sit between 12-18 people?" Becher said. "Maybe groups of 12-18 people are allowed, so we'll build a model for that. I don't know that's something that will be suggested, but that's a model we can build. What if it's only 1,000 people?

"OK, now we lay 1,000 people into the upper and lower bowls, and we talk about how we'll get them in through the doors, what that looks like. We probably have to give them times for them to show up. And which 1,000 get in? We have between 8,000-10,000 season-ticket holders. We have to think through that."

The ability to keep everyone safe and give fans and employees a sense of security and safety is a paramount concern.

"People have speculated that maybe everybody has to have their temperature checked. OK, if that ends up being true, then how many thermal thermometers would we need? How long would it take to buy them? We're not going to buy them now if we don't need them," Becher said. "Which doors do we open up? Do we have to tell people to wear masks? What happens if someone shows up without a mask? We probably have to sell them or give them one. Do we turn them away?

"We're just building, scenario by scenario."

Santa Clara County was one of the first to ban large gatherings. Becher believes the county will be one of the last to lift such restrictions. The Sharks might not return to SAP Center until December even if the NHL restarts its season. They likely could play their games elsewhere as Santa Clara County continues to practice social distancing and quarantine to fight the virus.

But Becher wants to make sure everything is safe before the Sharks and fans return to SAP.

"We were the first to close. My guess is that we'll be the last to open," Becher told ESPN. "That's OK. If we're the last to open, that means that [the message is that] it's OK to open. I don't want to open up until fans know it's safe for them to come in. Part of my DNA is that I don't want you in my building if it's not safe. If I've convinced myself that it's safe for employees, then it's probably safe for fans.

"If some fans still aren't comfortable, I'm not going to hold that against them. It's a personal decision. But I don't want you in my building if it's not safe. Because then I'm in my building, because you're in my building."

While several franchises decided to enact staff and pay reductions with no games being played, the Sharks opted to pay their employees who have been impacted by the stoppage in play.

"We were born in San Jose," Becher said. "We've always been here. Most of our players live here as well, and many of them have houses nearby. Our practice facility is in San Jose. We're a community sport."

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For now, the Sharks and the rest of the sporting world wait to get restarted. The NHL and NBA are hoping they can finish their seasons and crown a champion. Major League Baseball hopes to get underway at some point in the summer. The NFL is hoping to hold a normal season come fall.

Whenever sports return, Becher and the Sharks plan to be ready quickly after the A-OK is given.

"Whatever is decided probably won't be one of our models. But the hope is that it's a combination of things we're already worked through, so we can be ready in a short number of days," Becher said. "We build likely outcomes and one of those hopefully happens.

"What we're not doing is starting from scratch."

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