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Korean Baseball Fans Return With Fewer Cheers and No Beer

In this Tuesday, May 5, 2020, file photo, first base umpire Lee Ki-joong, wearing a mask and gloves as a precaution against the new coronavirus, makes a call during a baseball game between Hanwha Eagles and SK Wyverns in Incheon, South Korea.

Baseball fans may soon be able to watch games at stadiums in South Korea. But they’ll have to do it without beer, food, or their friends sitting next to them.

The measures are part of a new coronavirus quarantine manual released Tuesday by the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO).

Since early May, the KBO has played games inside empty stadiums. A limited number of fans will be able to attend starting in July, but with strict social distancing and other measures in place.

Spectators will have their temperatures checked upon entrance, will be required to wear face masks for the duration of the approximately three-hour games, and must sit at least one seat apart from each other.

Only non-alcoholic beverages will be allowed. Food will be sold in concourse concession stands, but not permitted in seating areas.

Perhaps the most dramatic change: shouting, singing, and cheering will be discouraged in an attempt to prevent physical contact and airborne respiratory droplets - the main mode of coronavirus transmission.

It is a strong contrast from the typical fan experience at Korean baseball games, which are usually filled with noisy, high-intensity cheers and corresponding dance moves - customs that for some fans are just as important as the on-field action.

In a statement, the KBO acknowledged fans may not like the new restrictions. "However, in order to prevent COVID-19 infections and ensure a safe viewing experience, our fans will need to follow these rules,” the statement read.

The new normal

The rules serve as a possible preview for professional sporting events that could resume in the United States and elsewhere in the coming weeks.

Major League Baseball, the main U.S. professional baseball league, plans to start an abbreviated, two-month regular season starting July 23 or 24.

The league hasn’t ruled out eventually allowing fans. But some teams have said their stands won’t be filled anytime soon, especially since U.S. coronavirus cases are once again soaring.

Revenue woes

The Korean baseball league was one of the earliest professional sports leagues to resume play, thanks in large part to South Korea’s successful handling of the virus.

The KBO’s ten professional teams began playing practice games in March. But without gate revenue, the teams have been nearing a financial “breaking point,” according to the Yonhap news agency.

"We've been paying our players and employees in full. But if we keep playing without fans in July, a lot of teams will run into extremely serious trouble," one club official told the news agency. "They may have to take out a loan to pay salaries."

The new fan policy may only help the franchises so much. Initially, teams can sell only 30 percent of their ticket capacity, although that figure could increase to 50 percent by the end of the year.