Anyone truly surprised by the Kraken's decision Tuesday to allow only fully vaccinated fans ages 12 and over into games at Climate Pledge Arena hasn't been paying attention.
The Kraken for weeks had telegraphed this move with all the subtlety of a Mark Giordano slap shot from the point. The team's higher-ups let it be known they were mulling a full-on vaccination policy and in years past haven't hesitated in being out front on other social and public issues.
"I just think all of our leadership got together, and we thought that this was the best thing for our fans," said Don Graham, a senior vice president for the arena and the Oak View Group (OVG) company that's spearheading its $1 billion-plus overhaul. "The last thing we wanted to do is revert back to (COVID-19) setbacks and limited capacity. We thought this was the 'best practices' approach we should be taking."
Seattle-based Graham, who leads a COVID-19 arena task force locally and at OVG venues nationwide, said the team heard from fans on the vaccination issue. The new rules apply to NHL games, concerts and all other arena events, where all patrons for now also must wear a mask inside.
"It was more just our customers asking us," Graham said. "A lot of the correspondence and emails I saw is they would be more comfortable if we had a vaccine requirement of everybody."
Until the San Jose Sharks announced a similar vaccination mandate last month, the only NHL teams taking that step had been Canadian franchises in Winnipeg, Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto. Locally, the Seahawks, Sounders, Storm and Mariners quickly followed the Kraken's lead with their own vaccination requirement pronouncements.
But those teams, unlike the Kraken, gave fans an out: They can also gain entry by producing a recent negative COVID-19 test. A big difference is those teams have either started their seasons or, in the Seahawks' case, are about to and it's too late to mandate vaccines-only without having fans miss games.
I've little doubt they'd be mimicking the Kraken's approach if their seasons were six weeks away.
Instead, the Kraken is going a step further and says it made the announcement now to give fans time to get fully vaccinated by the Oct. 23 home opener against the Vancouver Canucks. Vaccines also will be required to attend the team's training camp at the Community Iceplex at Northgate Mall, as well as three home preseason games in Spokane, Kent and Everett.
Graham did say the team will allow some unvaccinated fans into games with a negative COVID-19 test taken within 48 hours beforehand, but only if approved in advance for exemptions on legitimate medical or religious grounds. My key word there is "legitimate" — meaning, this isn't a cue for fans to suddenly find religion, or for every politicized physician assistant to start handing out doctor's notes to anti-vaxxers through social media crowdsourcing.