Rising numbers of COVID-19 cases on the central peninsula have decreased the spectator limit at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex from 750 to 250 spectators.
The Kenai River Brown Bears responded Friday by moving a pair of games with the Fairbanks Ice Dogs at the sports complex from Friday and Saturday to May 14 and 15.
The six other home dates for the Bears — April 23, 24 and 25 against the Chippewa (Wisconsin) Steel and April 29, 30 and May 1 against the Janesville (Wisconsin) Jets — remain the same.
Kenai River, with a 16-20-1-1 record, has yet to play a game in Alaska. The final 10 games of the season will be in Alaska — eight at the sports complex and two in Fairbanks.
Chris Hedlund, general manager for the Bears, said the Fairbanks games were moved in order to give COVID cases time to come down, allowing the Bears to get the revenue from 750 fans instead of 250.
May 14 and 15 is the last weekend of the regular season, so the Bears have no more flexibility left in the schedule.
In late February, the Soldotna City Council modified the COVID mitigation plans at the sports complex to increase the spectator limit from 250 to 750. The resolution also said that the number of spectators drops back to 250 if the central peninsula’s COVID case rate grows to 10 cases or more per 100,000 people over a 14-day period.
Friday, Stephanie Queen, Soldotna city manager, said the city is using the same metric as the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District to determine risk levels.
The school district defines central peninsula as Kenai, Nikiski, Soldotna, Sterling and other north communities.
Through Thursday, central peninsula had 93 cases in the past 14 days, with 13 cases Tuesday, 13 cases Wednesday and 10 cases Thursday. The central peninsula would need to drop to 51 cases in the last 14 days for the spectator limit to increase to 750 again.
Queen said that when central peninsula cases go to 52 or above in the last 14 days, the spectator limit automatically goes back down to 250. According to the school district, the central peninsula has been at the high risk level since cases from April 1 were reported on April 2.
Hedlund said the Bears have been only selling 250 tickets per game online. Most of those sales came in eight-packs for all of the remaining home games. All of those packages have been sold.
The general manager said the team is also doing a few select four-packs to fill out the 250.
“We limited what we were selling online to 250 because we didn’t want to get into refunds or anything like that,” Hedlund said.
The team is planning to make the other 500 tickets available the week of the game, if COVID numbers make those 500 tickets possible.
“That’s significant revenue,” Hedlund said. “We were banking on 750 when we made the decision to come back up.”
Hedlund said losing that revenue would be “hard and uncomfortable, but not painful” for the organization.
There is a Soldotna City Council meeting Wednesday. Queen said the spectator limit at the sports complex is not on the agenda. She said it would be unusual for an action item to be added to the agenda at this point.
“Going back to the end of February, when this specific resolution was considered, I think the intent was to try and put in place a framework that would allow decisions to be made without having to readdress it by the council at regular meetings every two weeks,” Queen said.
Queen added that if the mayor or council wanted to bring the spectator limit back up for reconsideration or reassessment, the mayor or council could do that even without anything on the spectator limit being published on the agenda.
The city manager added that she would include an update on the spectator limit in her report to the council.
Hedlund said he hopes the council reviews the spectator limit Wednesday, but said the Brown Bears don’t have plans to push hard on the issue.
Except for the drop in spectator limit, Hedlund said things are going great for the Bears.
“Everybody seems happy and excited to get back to Alaska and get back on the big sheet of ice,” Hedlund said. “The boys are excited to be back on home ice and are really looking forward to playing in front of a big crowd.”
Hedlund said the team has only played in front crowds larger than 250 a handful of times this season.
Finally, Hedlund said those who purchased tickets online should look for information on when and where to pick tickets up. Hedlund said that information will soon be available on social media and the team’s website. Ticket purchasers also will be emailed directly.