The Yankees and Mets can increase capacity from 20% to 100% at their ballparks for home games starting May 19 — as long as fans are vaccinated against COVID-19.
And both teams will be giving away free tickets along with vaccinations.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo made the announcement at a news conference on Wednesday with Yankees president Randy Levine and Mets president Sandy Alderson.
"Theoretically if you had 100% vaccinated, you could fill the entire stadium with 100% vaccinated," Cuomo said. "Unvaccinated, it is still the 6-foot social distancing. In other words, our capacity restrictions have been relaxed subject to the federal CDC social-distancing guideline of 6 feet."
The Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccination will be offered at the ballparks, and a person receiving a vaccination can get a free game ticket.
"If we can encourage more people to get vaccinated by giving away Yankees tickets, we are all in," the Yankees said in a statement.
The current requirement for fans to show proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test will be dropped because it is burdensome, Cuomo said. Masks will continue to be required. Sections for unvaccinated fans will be at 33% capacity.
Cuomo also announced that Broadway theaters will reopen Sept. 14 at 100% capacity and ticket sales could start Thursday. Broadway theaters were closed by Cuomo on March 12, 2020.
On Monday, Cuomo said New York City restaurants could raise capacity to 100% on May 19, two days after 24-hour subway service resumes.
All Major League Baseball teams were required to play the pandemic-shortened 2020 season in empty ballparks. Cuomo allowed the New York teams to start this season at 20% capacity (10,850 at Yankee Stadium, 8,384 at Citi Field) and said on April 26 they could increase to 33% starting on May 19. Cuomo expanded that even further Thursday.
"We've been polling our fans," Levine said. "I think the majority are vaccinated rather than unvaccinated who are coming in. And hopefully those numbers continue to rise. But we will have separate sections and accommodate all our season ticket holders, make sure that they're fine, and other people coming in."
Depending on whether season ticket holders and their guests are vaccinated, seat locations may have to be moved. Newly sold tickets will be specified as vaccinated or unvaccinated sections.
Levine is hoping for "full house after full house."
"The main resistance now is people's own fears and people's comfort level," Cuomo said. "And when you have a set of rules and protocols in place where people feel comfortable, I think it's going to have more people attending games. I think more people will go to restaurants. I think more people will go to museums if they know they are safe when they go there. You're vaccinated, you are going to sit with only vaccinated people. I think that's actually going to increase the public acceptance level."
Alderson said the Mets envision a gradual return to full capacity.
"There are some people who are just not comfortable being in large groups, even at an outdoor facility. And so, from our standpoint, we still need some social distancing," he said. "Generally speaking, we think a gradual return is appropriate in light of some concerns that people have about being in large groups even if they've been vaccinated. So we're working toward full capacity, of course, but we're happy with where we are and where we're going."
Alderson said the Mets have not yet succeeded in getting 85% of their players and tier 1 staff such as managers, coaches and athletic trainers to receive vaccines, the threshold set by MLB and the players' association to relax COVID-19 protocols such as mask requirements in dugouts and bullpens and restrictions on movement during travel.
"Our percentage right now is about 77%," Alderson said. "We continue to work on it. At this point, it's a case-by-case, individual-by individual campaign on our part. We continue to provide education and as time passes we get one or two more every few days. But we're not at that level yet and we see the kind of resistance within the framework of the team that we see publicly, and all of the same reasons are being made to us by them as we see in the public domain."
The Yankees were able to relax the protocols starting last Friday.
"Virtually all of our players have been vaccinated," Levine said.
The Arizona Diamondbacks said they will lift seating restrictions beginning on May 25 but masks will be required and distancing encouraged.
"While the seating restrictions will no longer be in place, we believe seat selection for the majority of games should still allow fans to spread out," Diamondbacks CEO Derrick Hall said in a statement.
Arizona had been allowing up to 20,000 fans at games, about half of Chase Field's capacity, and averaged about 11,500 through 11 home games.
AP Sports Writer David Brandt in Phoenix contributed to this report.
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