DETROIT (WXYZ) — Even before the Detroit Red Wings took the ice, the excitement was evident. That's because for the first time since the pandemic began, fans from Canada were back in Hockeytown.
“It's fantastic," said fan Paul Finlay from Windsor. "As a season ticket holder, I've had to sit at home, I can’t watch. I mean, I can watch the games, but to be here live and in person? That’s what I wanted.”
Paul is one of dozens of Canadian season ticket holders who were stuck on the other side of the border for the start of the Red Wings season. Paul and his wife made the short drive from Windsor, while the Whiteye sisters of Ontario drove over an hour.
“We're season ticket holders," Kat Whiteye said. "Our parents bought them before COVID happened, so this is our first game we get to go to as season ticket holders, so it’s pretty fun.”
Kat and Aliyah Whiteye have been anxious to see their team in person. Kat even traveled to Toronto to watch the Wings take on the Maple Leafs earlier in the season.
“I'm excited to be back in the fan aura,” Aliyah Whiteye said.
According to the Red Wings, 10% of season ticket holders are Canadian, and 25% of all single game ticket sales also come from Canada.
"I know they’re a very integral to our season ticket member base,” said Michael Lienert, vice president of Premium Sales for the Detroit Red Wings. "They've been excited to get back here.”
However, in order for those fans to get home after the game, they need to present a negative PCR COVID-19 test at the border. So, the Red Wings got to work to make it available.
“It's been very important for us, we've been trying to figure out all the logistics behind it,” Leinert said.
So behind a door in the concourse, the Red Wings set up a COVID-19 testing site for Canadians. The samples are taken to a lab set up in the arena, and fans will get the PCR results sent to their phone before the game ends.
“I'll definitely tell you, it’s unique," said Ishmel Holloman, regional director for BioReference Laboratories, which administers the tests. "We work with the other sports leagues with teams from Canada but tonight, we’re actually having the fans from Canada come over to the U.S.”
The test, which fans say can cost up to $200 or more in Canada, is discounted in the arena to $85. For fans who get to see their team play for the first time all year, the price is well worth it.
"It's been excellent," Finlay said. "The Wings really got it together.”
The Red Wings are also covering the cost of the test for the first 100 season ticket holders to sign up for the program.
BioReference says they are planning to administer a few hundred tests each game.