The Jacksonville Jaguars will be one of the only teams to host fans as they open the 2020 NFL season next month, and they’re implementing a number of safety measures to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“There'll be 15 games played that day, and of the 15 games played, we will be the only team with fans in their stadium, so all eyes will be on us,” said Chad Johnson, the Jaguars’ senior vice president of sales. “And they're gonna go, ‘How the heck is Jacksonville doing that?’”
The stadium capacity for the first home game against the Indianapolis Colts on Sept. 13 will be limited to 25%, which is around 17,000 fans. And even though the number of fans will be significantly smaller, Johnson said the staff to fan ratio has grown by 157%.
“We will have more of our ‘safe staff’— ticket takers, ushers, security, guest services — for the limited-capacity game than we did last year for a full stadium, and that's for the compliance piece of it, so that we can enforce the rules,” Johnson said.
When fans first get to the stadium, all parking lots and entry points will be open to prevent a glut of people coming in through just a few gates.
Tailgating will be allowed but discouraged.
“It just adds one more later that we try to eliminate,” Johnson said. “We’re hoping our fans will show up, walk in the building and get to their seats, but we know that [tailgating’s] such an important part that we want to be able to provide for them.”
The first change fans might notice when entering the stadium is signage. Dotted around the stadium are reminders to practice social distancing, sanitize hands and wear face coverings. Johnson said the stadium has added more than 750 hand sanitizing stations, and 30 staff members will be dedicated to wiping down high-traffic areas and working on disinfection.
Masks will be mandatory at all times in the stadium, even when fans are seated in the stands.
“The only time the mask can be removed is when you're actively eating and drinking,” Johnson said. “We would ask you to pull the mask down, take a sip of your beverage or have your food and put it right back on.”
And to prevent groups of strangers from sitting together at TIAA Bank Field, the Jaguars will be selling tickets in pods. People will sit in their pods of up to eight seats, and the seats around them will be zip-tied off.
If fans want to sell their tickets, they’ll need to sell the entire pod as a set.
When fans want to buy items at concession stands, they’ll be able to use a mobile app called JagsPay, which comes from the third party developer TapIt, order food and drinks, or even game day merchandise like jerseys and hats without touching anything but their phones.
Johnson says only the Jaguars and Kansas City Chiefs will be using the mobile platform.
The traditional way of getting food, drinks, and merchandise will also be available, but the lines will be spaced out, there will be plexiglass at every point of sale, and condiment stations are eliminated, meaning people will have to request ketchup or mustard when they get their food.
Johnson said his staff was able to learn a lot about fan tendencies when TIAA hosted AEW Wrestling events and high school graduations in recent months.
“When the event started, where did they go?” “Where did they not go? How long did they congregate in open spaces versus how quickly did they go to their seat? Did they keep their mask on?” Johnson said.
They used those events to help plan the guidelines for the 2020 season.
Johnson said he’s noticed when fans don’t keep their masks on when seated, it’s usually not intentional.
“When you walk into a restaurant, you wear a mask. You get your table, then you take it off. So in many cases, they just do that normal behavior and think it's okay,” he said.
There will be compliance officers making sure people keep their masks on throughout the game, and if they continuously don’t comply with the requirement, they’ll be asked to leave.
Johnson also said these first few games will help develop plans for games later on in the season, including when the stadium hosts the annual Florida-Georgia college game November 7, and then the Jaguars play a home game the next day.
“When you have less than a three-day turnaround time, you have to disinfect because of the contact life of the virus, so we’ll come and we will actually spray all of the seats in the interval, spray all of the furniture in the interior to disinfect after the cleaning process happens,” Johnson said.
To make sure employees are healthy to work, Johnson said they will undergo a “very detailed” screening process, get their temperature checked, and be given a sticker to ensure they’ve gone through the proper protocol. Screening will take place at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena next door.
Johnson and his team have been developing a plan to host fans since June, and he said he’s confident they’ve come up with a safe, comfortable environment.
“From an economic standpoint to us, it's not about that right now, because 25% capacity is significantly reducing our revenues, right?” Johnson said. “The Jacksonville Jaguars are such a special part of this community...they watched it grow up from an infant franchise 26 years ago. So to us, it's about the relationship with the fans. It's about getting back to normalcy a little bit.”
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