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WNBA protocols keep Sun from filling arena for now

Fans of both the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League recently have begun filling arenas nationwide to capacity as COVID-19 restrictions have been eased.

Things are much different for the Connecticut Sun and the other 11 teams of the Women’s National Basketball Association.

The WNBA has restricted attendance and required fans to wear masks. The Sun, the Mohegan Sun’s franchise, are allowing a maximum of 2,300 season ticket holders at their games who are spread out across Mohegan Sun Arena, which seats over 9,000.

“The NBA, they test people right in the arena,” said Connecticut Sun president Jennifer Rizzotti, who started for UConn’s first national championship team in 1995. “They do rapid tests on walk-in. WNBA teams aren’t doing that nor can we afford to. There is quite a bit of difference in terms of what (the NBA) can do operationally versus what we can right now.”

Sun season ticket holders who have sat in the first several rows from the floor have been moved back to adhere to WNBA protocols. The team has also followed guidance from both the Mohegan Health Department and the state.

“It’s so nice to have fans back in the building,” Rizzotti said. “It certainly isn’t ideal to have them spread out all over the arena, but it’s better than playing in front of nobody. It’s gone fairly well overall.”

What the Sun must require of their fans differs from the rest of the casino. Patrons do not need to wear masks provided they’re vaccinated. Masks won’t be required inside the arena this summer when it begins hosting concerts again, starting with Air Supply on July 18.

There are limited concessions at Sun games in which pre-packaged snack foods are available for purchase as well as fountain drinks. Merchandise is not currently being sold inside the arena to avoid lines. There’s also a limitation on large bags and purses.

Connecticut has five more home games before the WNBA’s Olympic break in July. It will revisit its attendance policy, depending on any new rulings by the league, and determine if more fans will be allowed in the building when play resumes in August.

“I think restrictions will be lifted quite a bit, but I can’t say for certain that it’s going to be full capacity or no masks or no distancing,” Rizzotti said. “We’re just kind of prepping for that. We’re ready with a ticket sales strategy and communications plan to have every seat in the available to be sold but obviously we’ll be prepared for any restrictions that come into play.”

n.griffen@theday.com

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