OAKLAND (CBS SF) — After originally vowing to play its inaugural Indoor Football League game in an empty Oakland Arena, the Oakland Panthers announced their Saturday evening game would be canceled to help stop the coronavirus spread.

The team issued a statement on Friday afternoon:

Dear Oakland Panthers Fans,

As we have stated since the beginning of the COVID-19 global crisis, the safety of our fans, players, and staff remains our top priority.​ ​After continually monitoring the situation nationally,​ we have decided to cancel our Opening Game March 14, against the Iowa Barnstormers.

Though we enter an almost unprecedented period of uncertainty in sports history, our team, our community and our fans will come out of it stronger than ever. ​Oakland is still Oakland. The Bay is still the Bay.​ The world is dealing with a crisis, and we owe it to our community to take responsible actions. We, as an organization, must take the necessary steps to contribute to the global fight against COVID-19. We know that this postponement is disappointing to many fans, players, coaches, but we will be back as soon as it is responsible. We have been deeply touched by all the positive support the Panthers have received from the Oakland community, and we are unwavering in our mission to keep professional football in Oakland.

Thank you for your understanding, patience, and support during this time.

The Panthers were hoping to kick off the team’s inaugural IFL game against visiting Iowa Barnstormers at Oakland Arena Saturday evening without any fans in attendance. The game was set to be broadcast on KBCW 44/Cable 12 and streamed on YouTube.

COMPLETE COVERAGE: CORONAVIRUS OUTBREAK

One other IFL game scheduled for Saturday in San Diego to be played without fans in attendance was also canceled.

The IFL said its season would be postponed after Saturday’s games until further notice.

The league had postponed one game on March 12 between Duke City Gladiators and the Frisco Fighters in Texas after two games to start the 2020 season, the league’s 3rd in existence.

In a statement on the team’s website, the Panthers said the March 21 game vs. Duke City and the March 28 game vs Arizona, both at Oakland Arena, have been canceled and refunds would be issued for all three games.

“We know that this postponement is disappointing to many fans, players, coaches, but we will be back as soon as it is responsible,” the team said. “We have been deeply touched by all the positive support the Panthers have received from the Oakland community, and we are unwavering in our mission to keep professional football in Oakland.”

Before word of the game’s cancellation, the notion of Oakland being the site of the only official pro sporting event on the West coast was not lost on Panthers quarterback Brian Hicks.

“We’re the only show in town. That’s kind of what our coach has been preaching and so. We’re hoping to be a benchmark in the community,” said Hicks. “I know Oakland is a legendary sports town is very proud of their sports. So with everything that happened with the Raiders leaving in the Warriors kind of hopping over the bridge, we’re hoping to bridge that gap and be a home stay for Oakland and something they can buy into and believe in and be a part of.”

The franchise was launched last September by NFL great and Oakland native Marshawn Lynch and entertainment and gaming entrepreneur Roy Choi.

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