Lightfoot expects fans for Bulls, Blackhawks by season's end originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
In a press conference Tuesday morning, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot expressed optimism that fans will return to the United Center for Bulls and Blackhawks games by the end of each team's 2020-21 seasons.
"We're talking to both the Bulls and the Blackhawks. I think they've got very solid plans," Lightfoot said. "But those plans were rolled out at a time when we were on the upswing on the surge. As Dr. (Allison Arwady) already said and the numbers bear out, we feel like we might be plateauing and even -- dare to dream -- going down.
"Going down is the right time to have that conversation, so we'll continue with that. And I expect before season's end that there will be fans in the United Center."
In March, the United Center appeared to begin preparations to welcome fans to the arena, posting "Welcome Back" signs on walls, installing new temperature-monitoring technology and opening up concourses vendors typically inhabit.
But, as Lightfoot alludes to, new cases rose in the final week of March. An announcement never came to fruition.
As of April 18, the city's average positivity rate sat at 5.6 percent, above its target of less than five percent (the average positive rate dipped below three percent for a time in early March). The city reported 693 new COVID-19 cases on April 18.
The Cubs and White Sox are both allowing a limited capacity of fans for their (outdoor) games. The Bulls and Blackhawks have hosted no one other than team staffers and close family and friends this season.
The Bulls mark one of three NBA teams, along with the Oklahoma City Thunder and Portland Trail Blazers, that remain closed to the public. The Blackhawks are one of two U.S. teams not hosting fans, but the other team, the San Jose Sharks, plans to open their doors April 26.
The Bulls have seven home games remaining in their regular-season schedule, though they remain alive in the playoff hunt. The Blackhawks are also scheduled to play seven more games at the United Center by regular season's end.