Budweiser Gardens and London Knights navigating vaccine policy and capacity limits ahead of Friday's game

Management at Budweiser Gardens is preaching preparedness and patience for those showing up for Friday’s London Knights game.

Outside the venue, tables will be set up with security officers screening ticket holders for full vaccination status.

"Have either your paperwork and your ID out or your phone ready,” says Brian Ohl, general manager of Budweiser Gardens.

"We'll have people out here announcing what's going on and where to go and stuff and just, you know, listen and pay attention and we think we'll go relatively smoothly.”

Effective Friday, anybody aged 12 and older entering the venue for a ticketed event, will need to show proof of full vaccination or proof of medical exemption with proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 48 hours of the event.

Those under the age of 12 will need to be accompanied by a fully vaccinated adult.

"It is going to be a little bit of a logistical problem but we're going to have two gates open," says Ohl.

"Normally we put 4,000 people through Gate 1. We're figuring we're going to get maybe four to 600 through here so it's a lot less, and it's only one additional step to check vaccination status.”

The province has pandemic restrictions that limit all indoor arenas to a maximum of 1,000 spectators.

That means that just under 11 per cent of the 9,100 person capacity will be available for Friday’s OHL game between London and Sarnia.

The Knights have close to 7,000 season ticket holders, so the team is still trying to navigate how to allow as many as possible in the building during the pre-season.

"There's no way for us to be able to take care of all of our season ticket holders so we're going to kind of go on a first-come, first-serve basis," says Rob Simpson, London Knights associate general manager.

“Anything that we take as far as revenue is going to be given back to charity and local organizations that need help. We felt that that was the only way logistically that we could give everybody a fair chance to be able to come to the game.”

Heather and Chris Cowan of Mt. Brydges, Ont. are Knights season ticket holders and the parents of Knights second-round draft pick Easton Cowan.

They've secured seats for Friday's exhibition opener.

"We are a double-vaxxed family so we're thrilled that we can come out here and  get to see him play," says Heather.

”It is unfortunate that it still will be a little limited but everybody's excited to see the game back,” she says. “Everyone wants to be here so if you are double-vaxxed and you can get the option to come I think everyone deserves a chance.”

The OHL season has a later start this year, and Simpson says that's a positive for potential fans.

"One of the nice things that we have this year is with our season being delayed a little bit until October, is we have one more home exhibition game," says Simpson.

"We're not doing any off-site games, so  we have another game that's in our building. So, at least those ways we are going to get to a few more of our fans and season ticket holders in the building.”

As fans have been purchasing tickets, they are also expressing their desire to watch the team return to the ice for the first time in 18 months.

"A lot of players now like Luke Evangelists and Antonio Stranges,  for example, that are 19, you haven't seen in a couple years so it's going to be exciting for people to be able to see how good they've become and how the work that they've put in," says Simpson.

"Talking to Cindy in our ticketing office a lot of people are really excited and want to come so that's why we're hoping that, sooner rather than later, maybe we can get more fans in the building for our games so everybody can see the players. Right now we have 1,000 and I don't think, you know it's probably not the smartest thing to forecast too far out because of how rapidly things change.”

It's not only the Knights but also venue management who are hoping for either an increased patron limit or switching to a percentage of people related to capacity.  Ohl feels instituting the mandatory vaccination policy will help move things along more quickly.

"If you look around the province and you look at the OHL, Live Nation, Maple Leafs sports, everybody is putting in those policies," says Ohl.

"The whole idea is that we institute these policies, and we think the province will be quicker to open up the capacity."