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The Impact Of COVID-19 On Local Sports

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(AP Photo/John Locher)

Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (29) plays during an NHL hockey training camp Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, in Las Vegas.

COVID-19 continues to affect every aspect of life, and local sports is no different.

The Golden Knights will start their season Thursday in an empty T-Mobile Arena. 

Jesse Granger writes about the Knights for the Athletic. He talked to some players about playing in an empty stadium.

"A few of them said it felt kind of sad not having the fans in there," he said. "They mentioned that they think the fans are one of the big reasons they've had so much success at home, and they've been one of the better home teams in the league since coming in."

Despite that, the players told Granger that T-Mobile Arena is a better place to play than in Edmonton, where the league held the playoffs in a bubble. 

The music they play during practices and scrimmages is louder and more up-to-date than in Edmonton.

The fan noise that people viewing the games at home heard is not actually heard by the players, Granger said. The crowd noise is just for TV. But for the two scrimmages the team had at T-Mobile, they did pipe crowd noise into the building.

And when play actually starts, the Knights might be listening to their actual fans.

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"So far, they've just been using generic crowd noise that was supplied to them by the NHL, but the team actually has some team-specific crowd noise," Granger said. "They've basically got audio of Golden Knights fan being loud."

Granger said the team is hoping to use that, but it is up to the NHL to decide.

Although there won't be 18,000 screaming Knights fans at the T-Mobile on Thursday night, Monecia Threats, a co-host of the GirlsChatSports podcast, believes it will not diminish the city's love for the Knights.

"I think people are still excited and really ready for a Knights season," Threats said. "I don't think it's lost its luster. We actually know what the situation is with COVID. You have opportunities to still celebrate and rally around your team." 

Threats said just knowing the team is playing at T-Mobile gives her chills.

Her co-host for GirlsChatSports podcast, Melissa Ferris, agreed that Las Vegas is ready to watch their Knights play, even with everything else going on in the world right now.

"I don't think the community has necessarily dropped in their fandom here," she said. "There's a huge ladies group that I follow and am part of for the Vegas Golden Knights, and they haven't slowed down. They're engaging. They're still trying to have socially distanced [events] and under the maximum [amount of people] allowed here in Nevada to gather."

Ferris said people are still trying to have the camaraderie that they've had with other Knights fans even if they can't be at the T-Mobile or their favorite Knights bar. 

It is not just the Knights playing without fans. The Raiders played their first season as a Vegas team with no fans in attendance, and both players and coaches found themselves on the reserve/COVID-19 list.

Vinny Bonsignore, a sportswriter for the Las Vegas Review-Journal, believes in many ways the coronavirus pandemic negatively impacted the Raiders' first season in Las Vegas.

For starters, the team's new players, which happened to be mostly on defense, didn't get the all-important spring camp and training time they normally get. 

"Games are won in September and October and November, but teams are built, foundations are built, in the spring," Bonsignore said. "And specifically as it relates to the Raiders with so many young players."

Bonsignore said when he spoke to coaches during the spring, when everything was shut down because of the pandemic, they told him the lack of spring training would cost the team at some point.

He said the lack of spring training didn't hurt the offense, but it did hurt the team's young defense, which he believes let the team down time and again.

Besides that, Bonsignore believes the lack of fans caused problems for the Raiders in three key moments. He said that three times over the season, when the team was ahead and all the defense had to do is stop a play or two, they didn't come through. 

Usually, at the point, the crowd gives the defense the boost that it needs, but that boost wasn't there. 

"That's when you're making life difficult for the opposing offense," he said. "I'm not saying the outcome would have been different, but it would have been interesting to see how different it might have been if there were 65,000 rabid, crazy fans in that stadium making life difficult for the Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Chargers and the Miami Dolphins at that specific moment."

He also noted that the lack of fans has had an impact on the overall scoring in the NFL because the offense can actually communicate better. When fans are in the stands, it is often too loud for the offense to verbally communicate with each other, but because there is no noise, they can exchange information about plays and execute them better.

Guests

Jesse Granger, sportswriter, The Athletic; Melissa Ferris and Monecia Threats, hosts, GirlChatSports podcast; Vinny Bonsignore, sportswriter, Las Review-Journal

 

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