The NFL has plenty to sort out ahead of its 2020 season. For starters, will stadiums be able to accommodate fans amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic?
The league has so far been mum on the subject, leaving that decision up to its individual teams. Friday the Jacksonville Jaguars became the second team to announce fans will be permitted at games this season (the Ravens made a similar declaration earlier this week), though TIAA Bank Field will only be open at 25-percent capacity, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
Compared to other states, Florida has been relatively lax in enforcing mask usage, social distancing and other safety measures aimed at combatting COVID-19. Predictably, Florida has been among the hardest-hit states in terms of confirmed cases (third-most behind New York and California), particularly of late. TIAA Bank Field, the Jaguars’ home since their inaugural season in 1995, seats 67,814 fans at full capacity. A quarter of that would be 16,953.
Whether fans would actually want to attend games under these circumstances remains to be seen, though it wouldn’t be a surprise if other teams followed the Jaguars and Ravens' lead in permitting spectators. Even half or quarter-filled stadiums would go a long way toward alleviating the financial burden placed on teams suffering from lost ticket revenue. Playing in venues with a lower seating capacity could also lead to increased demand, potentially allowing teams to up the price of tickets, parking, merchandise and even stadium concessions. Schefter confirms CDC social distancing guidelines will be in place at Jaguars games this upcoming season.
Jacksonville and Baltimore's decision to host spectators this year could put the league in a precarious position. Beyond the obvious health risks associated with having so many people congregate in a single location, allowing some teams to have fans while others play to empty stadiums could create an unfair advantage. Piping in audio (something MLB teams are currently experimenting with) could provide a temporary fix, though manufactured crowd noise isn’t a substitute for real fans.
We’ve seen plenty of false starts and setbacks throughout the pandemic and there’s an excellent possibility the Jaguars will revisit their stance on having fans, assuming we play at all this year. But until someone says differently, consider TIAA Bank Field open for business.