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The Tampa Raptors? Could Canada’s NBA team be heading to Florida?

It’s likely the Toronto Raptors will need to play home games in the United States for the 2020-21 season. Could the home of the Tampa Bay Lightning have two tenants next season?

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Fans mingle in Tournament Town before the 2019 NCAA Women’s Division I Championship Final Four game between the Oregon Ducks and the Baylor Bears on April 05, 2019 at Amalie Arena in Tampa, FL. Photo by Mary Holt/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Because of Covid-19 protocols in Canada, the movement of NBA players and teams from city-to-city will be more drastically affected north of the border than south. Right now all visitors to the Great White North must quarantine for two weeks upon arrival for all “non-essential” travel.

And that makes home games for the Toronto Raptors at Scotiabank Arena likely impossible, as it doesn’t seem the provincial or federal government is willing to acquiesce and make an exception.

Enter Tampa Bay, America’s largest market without an NBA team.

“Ideally, the Raptors are able to play their upcoming season in Toronto, but should that not be possible, we would have a strong interest in working to successfully meet and exceed their expectations as an alternative host,” said Rob Higgins, executive director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission. “We’ve enjoyed our preliminary conversations with their organization and stand ready to assist if needed.”

Amalie Arena already hosts the reigning Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, and is considered one of the best venues in the NHL for fans (but not by media, where griping about the legendary “Silver Bullet” elevator from the press box to the ice is one of hockey’s great traditions).

The venue also has plenty of experience hosting basketball, as the Women’s Final Four will return to the venue for the fourth time in 2025. The first and second round of the NCAA’s March Madness was canceled due to Covid-19 in 2020, but would have been the venue’s fourth time hosting that event as well.

“From a record fourth NCAA Women’s Final Four to several men’s March Madness events to college conference tournaments, we believe Amalie Arena provides a tremendous set-up for big time basketball,” said Higgins.

Tampa makes sense for a variety of reasons, one of them being the openness of Florida regarding Covid-19 protocols. It adds a shorter road trip for teams visiting either the Orlando Magic or Miami Heat, there are several hotels that can cater to the higher-end needs of NBA teams within walking distance, and the airport is consistently ranked as one of the nation’s best with plenty of private aviation facilities attached to get teams in and out quickly.

There’s also plenty to do in a walkable downtown that has plenty of outdoor activities to keep players and staff from being in their hotel rooms all day, as there will be lots of safe places to wander and keep from going stir-crazy.

The only downside? The building might be occupied already.

If the NHL goes to the proposed “hub” model to start the 2020-21 season, the reigning champs would be one of the favorites to host for all the reasons listed above. A great building, plenty of hotel space, and good ice particularly at that time of year are all positives. Plus getting players to sign off on competing in Tampa during the winter months won’t take much nudging.

But sources we’ve talked to in Tampa say hosting both an NBA team and and NHL hub in the same building isn’t practical, especially with Super Bowl 55 and possibly WrestleMania returning to Tampa in early 2021. The amount of games an NHL hub will host is just too many to address the needs of both hockey and basketball in the same building, despite the ability to get quick turnarounds.

Both the NBA and NHL models are also hoping for some limited fan attendance as well, as playing in front of empty buildings makes the financials much more difficult for both models according those we’ve talked to in Tampa.

It’s not a done deal yet, and it’s not assured either will come to pass, but Tampa is ready to say yes to either the NHL or NBA, and the odds seem very good at least one event arrives in the Bay shortly.