Can You Require Fans To Be Vaccinated?

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When Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz announced his plans for Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres games months in advance, it was the highest-profile example of an issue that will continue to reverberate around every sports venue: Should vaccinations be made mandatory for fans to attend?

Poloncarz’s announcement, made in March, specified that since Erie County owns the venues that the two teams play at, they would be able to require vaccination. The decision was questioned by Governor Andrew Cuomo, who says the state would have to sign off on any mandate and “I just think it’s early to make a decision months ahead.”

But Cuomo did not have any objections when the New York Knicks announced that it planned to only offer tickets for the Eastern Conference semifinals to fans who could prove vaccination; those plans, of course, were made moot when the Atlanta Hawks eliminated the Knicks in the first round.

The morality of requiring vaccination to attend sports events can be debated but legally, according to Elise Bloom, partner, class and collective actions, Proskauer Rose LLP, “the short answer is that under current federal law, yes, you can do that.” Bloom was speaking at a recent Leaders Week virtual event.

“One thing you want to make sure of is there may be some state and local differences,” Bloom said, pointing out that venues trying to implement such a policy also have to make accommodations for people who are not vaccinated either for health or religious reasons. She also said that regardless of a vaccine requirement at events, sports teams do have to ask fans several screening questions about COVID including how they feel, if they have been recently exposed to somebody with COVID or if they are experiencing symptoms that would be consistent with the virus.

The idea of requiring vaccination is welcomed by a majority of fans; a Seton Hall Sports Poll conducted in late May showed that 53 percent of those polled agree that sports teams should require fans to show proof of vaccination. The number went up to 60 percent in favor of such a requirement among sports fans and to 71 percent for avid fans.

A large number – 68 percent of the general population, 72 percent of self-described sports fans and 77 percent of avid fans – favored designated areas within venues. When asked about wearing masks while attending sporting events, it was 52 percent of the general population in favor of this requirement, while 56 percent of sports fans and 59 percent of avid fans agreed.

The poll surveyed 1,554 adult respondents with a margin of error of 3.2 percent.

“This is a significant indicator of the trend to return,” said Charles Grantham, director of the Center for Sport Management within Seton Hall’s Stillman School of Business. “Sports fans seem cautiously optimistic, but also seem to favor precautions regardless of the official relaxation of restrictions over the last month.”

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