Arena experience will be different for the few Dayton fans at season opener

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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Dayton rededicates 50-year-old UD Arena

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Flyers open the season at 7 p.m. Tuesday against Eastern Illinois

Workers at UD Arena, including the arena’s director, Scott DeBolt, reacted in much the same way as the Dayton Flyers and their fans when the school announced a 7 p.m. Tuesday home game against Eastern Illinois on Monday.

“We all got a little giddy and excited for tomorrow,” DeBolt said. “It’s been a while since we’ve put on an event. We’ve been looking forward to it. There won’t be 13,000 people in the building, but it will still be Dayton Flyer basketball. We’re going to make it the best we can.”

The coronavirus pandemic cost UD Arena the First Four and the Winter Guard International World Championships — both of those events have already been called off for 2021 — not to mention graduation ceremonies and the final three rounds of The Basketball Tournament.

The start of the 2020-21 basketball season at UD was in question until Tuesday. The NCAA moved the opening day of the season from Nov. 10 to Nov. 25. Then Dayton had to cancel its exhibition game Saturday against Cedarville University. Two opponents, Bellarmine University and Alcorn State, were supposed to play Dayton in the first regular-season game Tuesday. Like Cedarville, both couldn’t play because of positive COVID-19 tests.

That’s how Dayton ended up announcing its first opponent 27½ hours before game time. The game will be televised on Spectrum News 1 and ESPN+. The late announcement won’t affect travel plans for too many fans. Fewer than 300 will see the Flyers play in person because of Ohio Department of Health restrictions on indoor gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic.

All this comes after a 2019-20 season that saw UD celebrate the end of the three-year renovation project that transformed the now 51-year-old arena. Dayton also set a school record by selling out 14 of 17 men’s basketball games during a historic 29-2 season.

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The people in the building on Tuesday and Saturday when Dayton plays Southern Methodist — and throughout December — will experience a quieter and nearly empty UD Arena. For one thing, there will be no band or cheerleaders or student section.

“For the limited fans that will be there, it will definitely be a little bit different,” DeBolt said. “We’ve tried as much as possible — and will continue to build on it as we go throughout the year — to make that experiences as normal as possible. Like other other venues have done, we’re going to have some crowd noise in there. As far as our gameday operations, the look and feel of the video boards and introductions and all that stuff should be the same. Timeouts and those type of things will look similar but different. You’ll hear the band. You may see them on the video board. You’ll see the cheerleaders on the video board. But you won’t see them in person. Our giveaways will be a little bit different. They’ll be done digitally, electronically.”

The pre-recorded crowd noise played over the loudspeakers will be a mixture of noise heard at other arenas and ballparks and some noise specific to Dayton.

“Everyone’s kind of put some crowd noise out there,” DeBolt said, “and everyone’s kind of picking and choosing which ones they like, which ones they don’t like. We have about four or five different ones that we’ll use throughout the game depending on what’s going on and we’ll see what kind of natural crowd noise we can create with the limited number of fans that will have in there.”

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All the fans will be seated on the east side of the arena in the lower bowl: the 100 and 200 sections. They will sit in groups of two, three, four or five people. Those groups will be distanced from each other. There will also be fan cutouts in the building. Fans can purchase those online for $55.

Among the fans allowed into the building are immediate family members of players and coaches: parents and siblings, mostly, or anyone who lives under the same roof. Some UD boosters and corporate sponsors will get tickets. The attendance limit is 300. DeBolt said there will be fewer fans than that.

“We’re taking a very cautious approach, a crawl, walk, run approach,” DeBolt said. “We’re sensitive to Montgomery County’s purple level and the stay-home recommendation from the governor. We’re asking people if they want to come. It’s not a mandate. Same thing with some of our staff and those that will be working. If you don’t feel comfortable or want to stay at home, we completely understand and will not hold that against them.”

Everyone in the arena will be kept at a distance from the court. There will be no photographers or videographers under the basket. They’ll be in the stands. The few media members invited to attend will not sit on press row but at a table in the 100 section.

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Everyone in the arena, except the players, will be required to wear masks. If a ball goes into the stands, UD asks no one to touch it because it would have to be removed from play and sanitized.

Here are a few of the other safety protocols:

• “All seating areas and high touch points have been disinfected and sprayed with an antimicrobial treatment. Dedicated cleaning teams will be walking the arena throughout the game wiping down high touch point areas.”

• “Fans are asked to stay to the right when going up and down aisles and to be mindful of directional signage.”

• “Fans are asked not to gather in the concourse and sit in their assigned seating pods.”

While there’s still a chance the attendance rules could change in December and no fans would be allowed in the arena, they could also change in January or later in the season and more fans could be allowed to attend. It depends on the COVID-19 numbers in Ohio.

Right now, students are on winter break, but they can’t get tickets to the December games anyway.

“Once they come back, hopefully things are a little bit better,” DeBolt said, “and we can try to get some students in there to create some atmosphere.”

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