As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to play a major role in the sports world, the National Football League is still trying to figure out if fans will be able to attend any games this season. Many NFL teams have already said that fans will not be allowed, at least for the early part of the season. Other teams, such as the Miami Dolphins and the Dallas Cowboys, have said there will be a small number of fans who can attend. If a few thousand fans are allowed into the stadiums, which fans are allowed to go?
COVID-19 causing chaos with NFL teams
Major League Baseball is playing without fans. The NBA and NHL are in their own ‘bubble’ and are also playing in empty arenas. NFL teams are about to kick off the 2020 season in less than two weeks and some still don’t have a concrete plan regarding allowing people to watch their games in person.
In Texas, teams are allowed to have fans in stadiums at half capacity. The Houston Texans are playing it safe, at least for the home opener. There will be no fans in attendance on Sept. 20 against Baltimore. After that, they’ll adjust, saying “whether fans can attend other home games later in the season will depend on the status of the COVID-19 pandemic in the greater Houston area, which is currently at the highest threat level (RED),” according to ESPN.
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has said he expects fans to be in attendance when the Cowboys begin their season. In a recent radio interview, Jones said he doesn’t think the Cowboys would be at 50% capacity. “We’ll see how the lay of the land is as we get closer,” Jones said without guessing at what the number would be.
Most NFL teams going without fans in the early part of the season
Twenty-four NFL teams have already said no fans will be attending their home opener. Some teams, including the Las Vegas Raiders and the Washington Football Team, have already said there won’t be any fans at their home games throughout the season. Many franchises won’t make a decision on the entire season just yet and could make decisions on a weekly basis.
Back in June, Dr. Antony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he wasn’t so sure an NFL season would exist at all. “Unless players are essentially in a bubble — insulated from the community and they are tested nearly every day — it would be very hard to see how football is able to be played this fall,” Dr. Fauco told CNN. “If there is a second wave, which is certainly a possibility and which would be complicated by the predictable flu season, football may not happen this year.”
The Raiders are playing in a brand-new 65,000-seat stadium and those will remain empty all season. Team owner Mark Davis said if fans won’t be able to attend in person, he won’t go either. The team issued a letter to its season-ticket holders to explain the situation. “While the current situation is not how any of us envisioned celebrating the opening of Allegiant Stadium, when circumstances permit we look forward to sharing an unparalleled GameDay Experience in the Magnificent Stadium you helped to build,” the letter read in part, according to USA Today.
If a limited number of fans attend, who gets to go?
The Miami Dolphins recently announced that 13,000 fans will be able to attend their home opener on Sept. 20 when they host the Buffalo Bills. “When we started the process back in March of exploring what a socially-distanced stadium could look like, we made the health and safety of everyone the first priority; knowing that if we felt that we couldn’t make it safe, we simply wouldn’t have fans,” said Miami Dolphins Vice Chairman and CEO Tom Garfinkel on Miamidolphins.com. “We’re happy that our elected officials recognize the attention to detail and diligence that we’ve put into creating a safe environment and that they made the decision to move forward with a 13,000-capacity stadium at this time.”
So who gets to go? Season ticket holders will get first crack at attending the games, but it’s not every season ticket holder. NFL teams have given season ticket holders an option to roll over the money they had put down for 2020 to 2021 or get a refund. For most teams, those who opt for a refund won’t lose their tenure and their seats will be reserved for 2021. They, however, forfeit their tickets to the 2020 season. Those who chose to keep their money with the team will get first dibs on attending games this year.
According to the Dolphins, all fans will have to wear face coverings while in attendance. There will be no tailgating at all during the season. Food and retail outlets, as well as parking, will be a cashless experience. It will be a whole different experience for those few who can attend a game this season. If you’re not a season ticket holder, you’re not likely to get in unless those tickets manage to make their way to the secondary market.