The Saskatchewan Rattlers may have not have won their Monday game at the SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon, but they did hit another major milestone, becoming the first professional sports team in the province to welcome back fans since COVID-19 restrictions lifted.
The province’s last remaining restrictions were lifted on Sunday, paving the way for about 1,000 basketball fans to return to the stands for Monday night’s Rattlers home game.
“I think fans really help momentum swings in the game,” said Brad Kraft, the vice-president of the Canadian Elite Basketball League team.
“[If] you’re down and out a whole bunch, it’s hard to get back into it if you don’t have people cheering for you.”
The team, who lost Monday night 87-70 to the Edmonton Stingers, had played their three previous home games this season with a limited number in the stands, inviting 150 front-line workers to watch. But Monday was the first home game of the season for the team where attendance was open to all.
Kraft said it took a lot of work behind the scenes to get ready for fans to return, but he thinks people were excited to come out, adding the team has seen an uptick in ticket sales.
The Rattlers organization is still being cautious when it comes to spectators near players, he said.
“We follow the government regulations in terms of restrictions, distancing, masking.… We’ve added some seats to be spaced out,” Kraft said.
“We’re going to also require masks on the floor for spectators. And then, of course, all staff and personnel have to wear masks as well.”
The Rattlers had live DJs during the game, giveaways and fan interaction to welcome their supporters back, Kraft said.
“We’re looking to find affordable, affordable, fun for the whole family. So it’s a great time — you know, two hours in and out kind of thing,” Kraft said. “And you can just see high-calibre basketball.”
Jesse Ollivier is a season ticket holder who came out to cheer on the team Monday night. He said it was strange to not have a mask on but he was excited to be back.
“This is exactly where I wanted to be,” Ollivier said. “I always love coming here. It’s a nice little break from everything else in life.”
Tom Liske, who has been a Rattlers season ticket holder for three years, said he had no apprehension about being back at SaskTel Centre. He said even though the Rattlers are zero and seven so far this season, he’s excited to be back.
“It’s great, but it feels like we probably shouldn’t be here. I kind of feel like we’re getting away with something and I kind of feel like, ‘Where’s my mask?’ But, yeah, it’s a really great feeling and I hope it lasts,” Liske said.
He’s hopeful that with the encouragement of “a few fans in the stands,” the team will “get a few wins now,” he said.
“But it feels absolutely fantastic.”
The Rattlers play next on Friday, July 16 at SaskTel Centre against the Guelph Nighthawks.