While there are so many unanswered questions regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, the NFL has maintained confidence that regular-season games will be played as scheduled when September rolls around.
So then, setting aside the bigger questions for a moment, what’s left to be determined from a purely NFL perspective is how games will be played in fan-filled stadiums. Let’s face it. The idea of a packed house isn’t at the top of anyone’s mind right now. And even if it were, it’s not easy to envision it being very comfortable for those involved (which extends beyond fans to stadium personnel). Nevertheless, the NFL has a plan to address the obvious issue of having fans in the stands when games are played.
ICYMI: NFL planning to allow different stadium capacity levels this season. https://t.co/h4DM1tC35C
— Daniel Kaplan (@KaplanSportsBiz) June 24, 2020
Daniel Kaplan of The Athletic reports the NFL is shifting responsibility to local jurisdictions to make determinations regarding how many (if any) fans will be in the stands when games kick off: “Attendance will be a state-by-state, county-by-county thing,” a source told The Athletic. “It will not be a one size fits all.”
The NFL is OK with different fan capacity restrictions across the league that will be based on each team’s home city’s local laws. And while that’s not an unreasonable landing spot, it certainly feels like a a bit of slippery slope. The league could mandate a limited capacity in order to go about this in the most safe and conservative manner, but instead is looking to pass the buck on the decision altogether. That could be a dangerous precedent, that could lead to the perception of a competitive imbalance. And that isn’t even considering the cash flow considerations or additional health risks for player and team personnel. I can’t imagine Team A that plays in a state that limits gatherings being totally OK with Team B getting an opportunity to rake in money from tickets because of the state they play in. And just imagine what happens if fans – asymptomatically infected with COVID-19 – pass the virus onto stadium workers and players.
Revenue sharing and additional, stricter health protocols for teams allowing larger groups of fans can help, but they won’t save the day. Not entirely.
Ultimately, money isn’t the only end game. At least, it shouldn’t be. The NFL’s end goal should be to get games off in a safe and above-the-board manner. We’re still dealing with a pandemic in the United States, so that might be easier said than done.