The NFL has made it through Week 1 of its season, and amid the COVID-19 pandemic, only three teams allowed fans in their stands: Kansas City, which hosted just over 16,000 fans at Arrowhead Stadium last Thursday (22% capacity); Jacksonville, which welcomed close to 17,000 fans at TIAA Bank Field on Sunday (25% capacity); and Denver, which allowed just 500 fans on Monday at Mile High Stadium, all friends or family of players and coaches.
But Miami Mayor Francis Suarez says the Dolphins would have hosted fans at Hard Rock Stadium if the team had been at home in Week 1 (Miami played at New England), and the team is ready to host up to 13,000 fans on Sunday, or 20% of the stadium’s capacity. (Average Dolphins home game attendance in 2019 was around 63,000.)
“They’ve probably set the standard for how a stadium should deal with Covid, in terms of creating a variety of different touch-less systems to be able to safely have fans in there,” Suarez told Yahoo Finance. “It’s exciting for people to think that things are returning to some semblance of normalcy.”
The Dolphins and the University of Miami Hurricanes, who also play at Hard Rock Stadium, received approval in late August to host 13,000 fans at their respective openers. The Hurricanes played their opener on Sept. 10, but ended up with only 8,153 fans in attendance, which some saw as a sign that local football fans are not itching to return to a game in person.
Brett Goldberg, CEO of ticket resale site TickPick, says that when NFL teams began selling tickets back in May, “The demand was incredibly strong, and the consensus was ‘Okay, things will be fine by September,’ but now, I can’t tell if it’s the social distancing and wearing a mask that is turning people off, the demand is not the same now as it was in May.” (In August, the Green Bay Packers revealed that in a survey, 80% of Packers season ticket holders said they were not comfortable attending games yet.)
Positive COVID-19 cases peaked in Miami on July 12 and have steadily fallen since then, though the city’s data showed another spike on Sept. 1.
Miami’s plan is not without controversy.
Rep. Donna Shalala (D-FL), former University of Miami president, called it “risky” to host fans at Hard Rock Stadium this soon. And Buffalo Bills coach Bill McDermott, whose team will come to Miami on Sunday to play the Dolphins, called it “ridiculous” that some teams are hosting fans while others are not. The Bills have announced they will not host fans at their games for the time being.
Kansas City faced similar criticism leading up to its kickoff game on Sept. 10. But Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas defended the plan on Yahoo Finance: “Part of the reason we get to a weird number like 22%, which some have pushed back at us on, is because that actually is the measurement of what you need to have rows between people, to have social distancing between pod groups,” he said. “There really won’t be crowds in the same way at the stadium.”
Indeed, TickPick CEO Goldberg notes that in advance of the Chiefs’ Sept. 10 opener, there were a surplus of four-packs and six-packs of tickets available, “because they were trying to optimize the number of people they could have in, with the proper distancing. If they have a group of two, they have to allow the same amount of space between the next group as they do for groups of four or six. But not many larger groups went, so that had a real impact on the resale side.” In the days before the game, the resale price for four-packs and six-packs were in some cases half the price of a pair of tickets.
Miami is not the only team planning to host fans in Week 2. Cleveland will allow 6,000 fans at its game on Thursday; Indianapolis will allow 2,500 fans on Sunday; and Dallas will allow fans on Sunday but has not yet said how many.
Only two teams, the Las Vegas Raiders and the Washington Football Team, have already announced they will not host fans at any of their home games this season.
Daniel Roberts is an editor-at-large at Yahoo Finance and closely covers sports business. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.