The Toronto Raptors announced in a team statement that they will be playing the 2020-21 season in Tampa Bay, after the Canadian federal government ruled on Friday that the Raptors will not be able to play games in the country, per the Toronto Star’s Doug Smith.
This was always a concern due to the travel restrictions that exist because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Raptors hoped for weeks that they would be able to figure something out that didn’t involve them having to move their entire operation south of the Canadian border. However, the government decided against it, forcing Toronto to have to play out the upcoming season in Florida.
Raptors president of basketball operations Masai Ujiri released the following statement:
“The Raptors worked diligently with public health officials at the local, provincial and federal level to secure a plan that would permit us to play our 2020-21 season on home soil and on our home court at Scotiabank Arena. These conversations were productive, and we found strong support for the protocols we put forward. Ultimately, the current public health situation facing Canadians, combined with the urgent need to determine where we will play means that we will begin our 2020-21 season in Tampa, Florida.
“We want to thank all levels of government and their public health officials for their dedication to this process, and for looking after the health of Canadians. We commit to continuing our work together, planning for a safe return to play in Toronto. And as an organization, we remain committed to doing all we can to promote and demonstrate public health measures to help combat the spread of COVID-19 in Canada.
“So we’ll be away from our home and our fans for now. They say absence makes the heart grow fonder. I’m not sure that’s possible for us — we love Toronto and Canada, and we know we have the best fans in the NBA. For now, I’ll ask you to cheer for us from afar, and we’ll look forward to the day we are all together again.”
Cities that were considered as options for the Raptors include Kansas City, Buffalo and Nashville, but Tampa was the preferred choice of several players on the roster, according to Josh Lewenberg of TSN Sports. It’s still unclear what arena the Raptors will play in while in Tampa, but Amalie Arena, which is home to NHL‘s Tampa Bay Lightning is an option. Amalie Arena has hosted March Madness games in the past, and was supposed to host games for the men’s college basketball tournament this year, until it was cancelled due to COVID-19.
If the Raptors were to use this arena, though, it would run the risk of interfering with the NHL’s upcoming season. The NHL hasn’t released any information regarding when its next season would start, but if Toronto plans on using the Lighting’s home for a portion of the season, it could cause scheduling conflicts.