SJ Earthquakes create drive-in experience for fans; modifications made because of COVID-19

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Saturday, July 11, 2020
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Major League Soccer is back! In the South Bay, San Jose Earthquakes fans cheered on from the safety of their own vehicles, as the MLS made its debut from the Disney bubble in Orlando.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- Major League Soccer (MLS) is back! In the South Bay, San Jose Earthquakes fans cheered on from the safety of their own vehicles, Friday evening.

The match day was met with some serious modifications because of COVID-19.

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Any given season, a warm summer night would allow the "Quakes" to play in front of 18,000 people at Earthquakes Stadium.

"We came up with a concept of doing a drive-in viewing party here at the stadium," SJ Earthquakes Chief Operating Officer, Jared Shawlee told ABC7 News.

This is the first time team management has allowed fans to drive into the venue.

"The cars are spaced about 6-feet apart," Shawlee said. "Everyone does need to either watch the game with their windows rolled up, or if they roll down their windows, they do need to wear their masks."

Shawlee said Friday's match attracted a sold out car crowd. He said the fan experience is sold out for the first three matches of the MLS is Back Tournament.

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Tickets into Earthquakes Stadium were free, though fans had to RSVP ahead of time. Shawlee explained the two viewing areas offered for Friday's match, each maxed out at 50 vehicles.

Fans in the Tailgate Lot enjoyed the match on a giant video display that included an FM signal for match audio. Fans at the 7UP Epicenter viewed the match on the stadium videoboard that faces Coleman Ave.

Not in the crowd, the leader of the San Jose Ultras, an independent crew of super fans. Without speaking for the group, Dan Margarit shared his own opinion, saying, "From an ethical point of view, I cannot support this tournament. I don't think they should risk anybody's health for it."

The Earthquakes are in Orlando, playing inside the Major League Soccer "quarantine bubble"- the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at the Walt Disney World Resort.

The team will play the tournament without fans.

Earthquakes player Tommy Thompson was on ABC7's With Authority Podcast, where he pointed to one silver lining.

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"It's actually going to be nice to communicate with your teammates a lot easier," Thompson said. "Because playing in stadiums like Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta, you can't hear anything."

Back in San Jose, while cheers might be muffled behind face masks, Earthquakes fans are ready for any sense of normalcy.

Although, there's no denying the new viewing experience is a big change in the way fans are enjoying professional sports during the pandemic.

Shawlee explained that after the tournament in Orlando, the Quakes will come back to San Jose. There's still no direction on what the fan experience might look like in the future.

"We're still working on all those logistics right now. So, we don't have a plan in place yet, but we're going to continue to work with the Santa Clara County Public Health Department and work with their guidelines and make sure we have a safe experience within the stadium," Shawlee told ABC7 News.

The San Jose Earthquakes are hosting these free drive-in viewing parties at Earthquakes Stadium, presented by Mineta San Jose International Airport.