Omicron postponed the Grammys but the NBA plays on at the same arena

The arena in Los Angeles.
The arena in Los Angeles.
Image: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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The decision to postpone the Grammys, set to be held at the arena in Los Angeles Jan. 31, reveals how inconsistent the entertainment industry has been in handling the pandemic, further baffling and frustrating ticket-holding customers and fans.

In the very same arena the music business currently considers a major safety risk, the National Basketball Association (NBA) still plans to hold its home game for the Lakers this week.

The Recording Academy said it decided to postpone the Grammy awards indefinitely due to safety concerns related to the new surge in omicron variant covid-19 cases in the US. “Given the uncertainty surrounding the Omicron variant, holding the show on January 31st simply contains too many risks,” the Recording Academy and CBS said in a joint statement.

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), the organization behind the Golden Globes, also announced its annual awards event will not have an audience or a red carpet segment. “The event will have limited guests and with strict COVID protocols that include not only proof of full vaccination, but also a booster shot and a negative PCR test,” reads an internal email obtained by Variety.

The scaled-down event, which is usually held at the Beverly Hilton hotel in Los Angeles, will also miss its usual television broadcast component after NBC decided to pull out in response to the Hollywood backlash against the event over diversity issues.

The decisions by the Grammys and the HFPA reflects a growing trend toward live show cancellations and vaccine and vaccine booster mandates designed to combat the resurgent virus.  But while sporting events are also live entertainment, they appear to be playing by a different set of rules.

One event arena, two very different covid-19 protocols

As omicron cases rose toward the end of 2021, NBA league president Adam Silver was repeatedly asked if there were plans to modify how games were played and how sports arenas were populated. 

“We’re having trouble coming up with what the logic would be behind pausing right now,” Silver said in December. “This virus will not be eradicated and we’re going to have to learn to live with it.” Since then, scores of players have been sidelined with covid-19 infections, forcing the league to postpone games and in some cases sign new players to fill-in for unavailable stars.  

The arena, until recently called the Staples Center, holds about 20,000 audience members, which is about average for most NBA facilities. A city-wide mandate requires all spectators and players to be either vaccinated or show proof  of a negative test, but while LA has strict rules in place, many NBA arenas and cities do not.

This week, one of the game’s biggest superstars, Kyrie Irving, who has opted not to get vaccinated, was allowed to rejoin his Brooklyn Nets team, but only for road games. The team’s home floor, Barclays arena in Brooklyn, falls under New York City’s vaccine mandate for indoor events, which means Irving can’t play half of the team’s schedule. 

Currently, the National Basketball Players Association, the union representing the players, does not require players to be vaccinated, but the organization claims that 97% of NBA players are vaccinated and 65% have received booster shots. Adding to the protocol confusion, visiting teams playing in vaccine mandate cities are not required to be vaccinated. 

The varying approaches to pandemic protocols, as well as the unpredictability of covid-19’s impact, will likely cast a long shadow over the Oscars, also set to take place in Los Angeles in about 11 weeks.