NFL to Leave Fan Attendance Up to Individual Teams and Local Authorities

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The NFL is coming. But will fans be able to follow them into stadiums, with COVID-19 still at the front of everyone’s mind? According to Daniel Kaplan of The Athletic, the league has told teams that it will not implement a cap to the amount of fans that can be in attendance. As long as teams follow their state and local COVID-19 guidelines…. fill ‘er up.


The NFL will let teams set different attendance capacity limits when the schedule starts in August with the preseason, meaning some clubs could play in front of full, or nearly full stadiums and some before no fans. That could lead to questions about competitive equity, and whether the league should allow teams in empty or near-empty stadiums to pipe in crowd noise when the opposing team is on offense. 

Daniel Kaplan – The Athletic

While it is great to hear that fans could be in attendance for the country’s most popular sport. The questions begin to outweigh what the league has communicated.

What about competitive balance? Will piping in crowd noise be allowed? All of these are things the league should have discussed prior to announcing their decision. I guess money is more important than ensuring the season is competitive.



CREATING INEQUITIES

From a business point of view, this decision makes sense. The NFL brought in around $15 billion in 2019. They would be set to lose around $3 billion of that, if games are played without fans. However, even if the league’s main focus is to make everyone richer, you have to question if this decision is the right move.

While the NFL does have a task force working on reopening plans for stadiums, it is tone deaf to just raise their hands in the air and say let the states decide. With each state experiencing vastly different situations when it comes to the disease, you could see teams like the Giants, Vikings, or Rams with no fans. I am usually not one to say life should be fair, but come on, this is sports. The one part of society where it should be.

Even before the NFL’s announcement, teams were developing plans for each situation, with regard to attendance. It’s just like what we are seeing with the University of Minnesota with TCF Bank Stadium. To what level will they have fans present and who gets priority?


“Every team has run this scenario of zero, 25, 50, 70 percent there… Everyone has those plans in the hopper, and then I think they’re going to pull out the plan that they feel like works at the start of the season, and if things change, they’re going to flip to Plan B or Plan C.”

Jesse Lawrence, TicketIQ Founder to The Athletic

The priority topic is especially interesting. With the Vikings in the midst of vying for their first Super Bowl, who do the Wilfs deem worthy enough to attend? That is, if Minnesota Governor Tim Walz will allow fans at all… Do they go by season ticket tenure? A single-game ticket basis? Who knows?

COMPETITIVE BALANCE

Home field advantage plays a massive role in the NFL. All you have to do is see how loud stadiums in Seattle, Minneapolis and New Orleans get on any given Sunday. It wouldn’t be fair for the Vikings to play in front of an empty air hanger, then have to go play in front of 70,000 drunken cheese weasels across the border in Green Bay.



So how does the league fix this situation? Well, as mentioned, they haven’t quite figured that out. They are waiting for their task force to come up with a solution, come late July. It doesn’t make sense to announce this in June, if they aren’t absolutely sure of what is to come.

One team executive even went as far to tell The Athletic, “I wish they would push back the start of the year to October to give us more time to learn from these other leagues.” With a shortened preseason expected, the league is running out of time to tinker and solve this issue.

Another big question that has come from this, is whether teams will start asking for artificial crowd noise to be pushed into stadiums. While we have seen the English Premier League do something similar, it has only been on their NBCSN broadcasts and not in the actual stadiums.



Yet former Jets and Dolphin executive, Mike Tannenbaum, told The Athletic that the league shouldn’t begin to “over-legislate things”. Unfortunately, making these comments without providing solutions, doesn’t progress the conversation.

EXPECT BACKLASH

I get it. The NFL is a business and they are here to make money. But if the league continues to back this latest announcement, we’re going to see certain teams lash out. Whether it is through pumping in artificial crowd noise or breaking their state’s rules and opening the gates, they won’t stand for this.

Riddle me this. Would the Vikings have won the 2009 NFC Championship game if New Orleans didn’t have fans? What about the Minneapolis Miracle?

Fans play an integral role in sports. Players feed off the energy fans provide and games without them completely alter its integrity… especially if some get the advantage and others don’t.



Jack Kewitsch | Minnesota Sports Fan

jkewitsch

Edina native and two-time grad of the University of Florida in Sport Management. Previously worked with the Timberwolves and Minnesota United FC along with the Gators.

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