Padres could be playing in front of full houses this season

Padres fan Dominic Norton holds a flag outside of Petco Park as he shows support for team following game last September.
Padres fan Dominic Norton holds a flag outside of Petco Park as he shows support for the team following a game last September.
(K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Number of fans allowed at Padres games will increase as COVID numbers improve


Every seat in Petco Park could be filled by the time the Padres make their expected postseason run.

“I think that’s a very distinct possibility,” Padres CEO Erik Greupner said.

It might take nearly that long for the Padres to be able to sell tickets for individual games.

It had been anticipated as late as Monday that a limited number of individual game tickets would go on sale perhaps as soon as this month. That was based on results of a survey the Padres sent to their season ticket holders last month that indicated about 30 percent of them would not utilize their tickets this season. But that might not be the case after an email sent to season ticket holders Monday resulted in a higher percentage of account holders than expected saying they would be opting in for the season.

“As of this morning, we are seeing a much higher opt-in rate than 70 percent,” Greupner said Tuesday. “… I can’t tell you yet we’re going to have any single-game tickets available. It is looking likely for the first two months of the season, we will not. ... It’s looking likely we will only have enough tickets available for our members — and maybe not all our members — for the first two months.”

The Padres have the equivalent of between 13,000 and 14,000 full season ticket holders, a number Greupner said is rising daily in the wake of excitement about the team. Under guidelines issued by the state last week, the Padres will be able to allow approximately 10,000 fans into Petco Park beginning opening day — provided San Diego County gets into the red tier, which is expected to occur next week.

The allowed capacity of 20 percent in the red tier would increase as the number of COVID cases drop and more vaccinations are given. The next hike would be to 33 percent capacity in the orange tier and then 67 percent in the yellow tier. However, there is a provision that is not yet entirely clear to teams in which they would be able to allow more than 33 percent while the county is still in the orange tier. That would be based on a certain number of vaccines having been administered. Greupner said it is likely people with proof of vaccination could be allowed in Petco Park without having to wear masks at some point in the season. It is also possible there will be special sections for some vaccinated people.

County Board of Supervisors Chairman Nathan Fletcher said he is “optimistic” Petco will reach full capacity this season.

“(President Joe Biden) has said vaccines will be available to everyone by the end of May,” Fletcher said. “If we hit the vaccination numbers we need, I certainly hope by late summer and fall we would resume all aspects of life somewhat normally.”

It is because of the fluid COVID numbers that the Padres have split their season into three segments for the purpose of assigning tickets. The first three segments comprise a two-month period of the regular season with the fourth segment being the postseason. Monday’s email to season ticket members said they will be notified of their seat assignments for the first segment March 19.

The precise capacity on opening day has not been determined. But it will be higher than the 8,500 that is equal to 20 percent of Petco Park’s 42,500 listed capacity. That is because Gallagher Square (the outfield park) and standing-room areas are not figured into that 42,500 number. Those areas will be utilized for seating this season.

“There is not going to be an inch of Petco Park that isn’t going to have a pod of seating in it,” Greupner said. “The entire park will be utilized.”

The available number of seats won’t be known until the Padres know how many season ticket holders are opting in and how they have to configure the seating pods.

Greupner also said COVID testing will be available for ballpark employees, and they will receive special training on health protocols before the season. Fans will not undergo temperature checks before entering games.

Fans will have to wear masks and maintain social distancing. Once inside they will find pods of two to six seats located no closer than six feet apart. Hundreds of new hand sanitizing stations will be located throughout Petco Park, and all in-game transactions will be conducted electronically.

Greupner declared his confidence Petco Park would be “one of the safest places to be in San Diego,” a point Fletcher did not dispute.

“The great progress on vaccines, the lower rate of community transmissions and deeper understanding of the relative safety of outdoor activities,” Fletcher said, “makes me completely confident we can have fans in Petco safely.”