While the NFL has announced it will allow teams and local officials to determine the number of fans allowed at its games this year, those with the best seats in the house will be a little further back from the field, at best, according to a report from Sports Business Journal.
The first six to eight rows of seats at each stadium – regardless of capacity percentage allowed due to the coronavirus – will be off-limits to fans this season. This includes on-field suite areas in stadiums that have them. This change will serve a dual purpose: Providing a larger physical gap between players and team personnel for safety reasons, while simultaneously opening that real estate for sponsor signage that will help offset lost revenue.
“Sources said those seats will be covered by tarps that could include sponsor logos similar to how EPL teams repurposed empty seating sections for ads during its return to play last week,” writes Ben Fisher. “The plan will be presented to owners at a meeting [Thursday].”
News of the tarped-off prime seating locations came right on the heels of news that the league would not make a unilateral decision regarding attendance percentages allowed in the fall, deferring that decision to teams and the public health officials in the various states they reside in. So the tarping off of what are often the most expensive seats in the building may only matter in certain markets – as teams in a city facing a coronavirus outbreak may not be allowing fans at all, depending on how things look this fall.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert and in many ways the face of the scientific community’s response to Covid-19 in the United States, indicated just last week his belief that sports should seriously consider playing in front of empty stadiums altogether. But his opinion was rebutted by the NFL’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Allen Sills.
“We are developing a comprehensive and rapid-result testing program and rigorous protocols that call for a shared responsibility from everyone inside our football ecosystem,” Sills said. “Make no mistake, this is no easy task. We will make adjustments as necessary to meet the public health environment as we prepare to play the 2020 season as scheduled with increased protocols and safety measures for all players, personnel, and attendees. We will be flexible and adaptable in this environment to adjust to the virus as needed.”
Should games be played in front of fans with the tarped-off areas necessitating relocation of those holding rights to seats in those zones, it will likely be a complicated situation in terms of how those season ticket holders or corporate partners are compensated for the change.