It will never be lost on me that Soldier Field was empty during the most important game of the Chicago Bears’ 2020 season. A game where a win against the Green Bay Packers could have clinched a postseason spot for the Bears had no fans in attendance. There were no boos for Aaron Rodgers. No cheers for that Mitchell Trubisky deep dart to Darnell Mooney. Nothing. Nada. Just piped-in sound and player-created noise. Other than that, a whole lotta emptiness.
But in 2021, things appear to be on an up-swing:
Goodell says today's virtual league meeting included discussions about welcoming back fans at every stadium. They had 1.2 million fans – safely, he notes — in 2020. Now, in 2021, the plan is all stadiums full. A strikingly optimistic tone five months away from kickoff.
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) March 30, 2021
To be clear, there isn’t a set timetable on having full stadiums. And the phrasing of having full stadiums during the 2021 season is important, because that shouldn’t be confused with having full stadiums for Week 1.
But still … that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell believes the league will have full stadiums in 2021 is quite a development. It’s equal parts bold and encouraging. The NFL had minimal fan attendance in 2020. So to go from 1.2 million fans going through turnstiles to a full-boat would be something. Just thinking about the league matching its 2019 output of more than 16 million spectators is mind-blowing. But perhaps a decrease in COVID-19 cases, increase of vaccinated fans, and a gradual re-opening of society’s entertainment facilities will put the league in a position to back up such a bold expectation.
As for Soldier Field, it’s already preparing to host fútbol games with fans starting in April:
Great news for @ChicagoFire FC fans: The team announced that they will be able to host a limited amount of fans at Soldier Field games starting with their opener against New England on April 17. @WGNNews pic.twitter.com/8Og0jubIF4
— Larry Hawley (@HawleySports) March 24, 2021
It will be a gradual phasing in process for fans returning to Soldier Field, with Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot allowing 7,000 fans to be in attendance in the 100 and 200 levels of the stadium. So while it won’t be a full house, it’s certainly a start. And if the Fire and the Mayor’s Office can work together on something, I don’t why the Bears can’t do something similar.
For what it’s worth, Chicago’s Mayor applauded the Cubs and White Sox attendance plans. Moreover, the Cubs are hoping to increase Wrigley Field attendance capacity throughout the season. I’m sure the White Sox have similar plans, too. Obviously, the goal is to get to 100 percent capacity. But you have to crawl before you walk.
As for the Bears, they have ample time to submit their own plan to the city. If the powers that be are wise about it, they will use what the Fire, Cubs, and White Sox have set forth as a blueprint. Here’s to having fans in the stands again. Because while Soldier Field might not be my favorite stadium, I’ll gladly embrace my next visit unlike I have ever before.