Good news for NFL fans — a return to normalcy.
This week, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced that the league expects to have full stadiums for the 2021 season.
COVID-19 PANDEMIC SHUTDOWN
Last year, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, stadiums across the league reduced their capacity, with some shutting their doors altogether. Among them was Lincoln Financial Field — a stadium known to host the most passionate fans in football.
Half-way through the 2020 season, city officials lifted their restrictions, allowing 7,500 people into The Linc. However, after one month, “Safer at Home” limitations took effect, and Philadelphia fans were repeatedly confined to their TVs.
The season came to a close with a total of 1.2 million fans in attendance, scattered between a plethora of cardboard cutouts. As a result of the decline across the NFL, $4 billion was lost in revenue compared to the 2019 season.
2021 SEASON EXPECTATIONS
On Monday the league announced that their regular season would increase from 16 to 17 games (including three rather than four preseason games). This was followed by an unprompted statement on Tuesday by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
Goodell stated, “All of us in the NFL want to see every one of our fans back. Football is simply not the same without fans, and we expect to have full stadiums in the upcoming season.”
Much of this confidence is due to vaccinations which are expected to ramp up in the coming months at sites across the country. Eighteen of them are NFL stadiums that have been used as mass vaccination sites, administering 1.5 million shots to date.
Though the NFL has aided in the cause, many factors remain out of their control. After a decline of COVID-19 cases earlier this year, there has been a recent rise over the last two weeks. Some believe this will continue as Summer approaches and restrictions become laxer.
The NFL will also need to account for COVID-19 variants and the population of people receiving the vaccine. According to NFL chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills, players, coaches, and staff are encouraged to be vaccinated but not required. Unlike Major League Baseball, vaccines are also not incentivized.
With the regular season five months away, the NFL and NFL Players Association will meet in mid-April to discuss protocols and finalize an offseason plan. As it stands, the NFLPA is advocating for a fully virtual offseason, including classroom work, training, and coaching sessions. Owners have opposite beliefs.
Despite what Roger Goodell may say, only time will tell as the pandemic continues to run its course.