A day after the Tampa Bay Buccaneers announced they would play their first two games in Raymond James Stadium without spectators, Gov. Ron DeSantis urged the team to allow fans to attend.
“If the Bucs had fans, I would try to go to the first home game. I would,” DeSantis said during a Thursday roundtable in St. Petersburg about bars and breweries. “I am not going to go if other fans are not allowed.”
DeSantis, who has repeatedly expressed excitement for the football team he grew up supporting and its off-season signing of quarterback Tom Brady, said the reopening of the Raymond James Stadium to fans is important for the Tampa Bay community.
DeSantis noted that the stadium is scheduled to host Super Bowl LV on Feb. 7, 2021.
“Having some fans there (now), I think would be a good first step,” DeSantis said Wednesday. “It's not where we need to be, but it doesn't mean you can't get there. But I want to think a lot of fans here want to be at the games.”
The Buccaneers on Wednesday announced they will play their first two home games without fans. “It is not yet time to reopen the gates,” the team said on its website.
The Buccaneers are hosting the Carolina Panthers on September 20 and the Los Angeles Chargers on October 4.
“The Buccaneers hope those will be their only two games with empty stands, and that current COVID-19 pandemic trends will allow their fans to get their first up-close look at Tom Brady and the 2020 squad when they host the Green Bay Packers on October 18,” the team stated in Wednesday’s announcement.
DeSantis has given professional sports wide leeway to operate in Florida throughout the pandemic. Last week, DeSantis went to Miami Gardens to show support for plans to allow 13,000 fans -- about 20 percent of capacity -- at Hard Rock Stadium later this month.
The Miami Hurricanes baseball team will play at Hard Rock on Sept. 10 and the Miami Dolphins open their football season at the stadium 10 days later.
In Wednesday’s announcement, the Buccaneers noted they are among 25 NFL organizations that will start the season without fans in the stands.
“The team came to this decision after working closely for several months with local and NFL officials to chart the safest and most responsible course for returning to games with fans in attendance,” the team’s statement said. “The decision is ultimately a disappointing one, as the Buccaneers deeply want to play in front of their passionate fanbase, but one that adheres to public health guidelines and keeps safety as the top priority.”