If stadiums aren’t open, NFL anticipates outside congregations of fans

Sport

While spitballing on the things that may happen if NFL stadiums prohibit fans this season with Dan Bernstein of 670 The Score in Chicago, Dan and I agreed that, unless stay-at-home orders are in place in a given state or county, fans who can’t get into the stadium for a football game may congregate outside, tailgating while watching the game on TV and otherwise getting as close to the action as possible while participating in a communal experience.

Per a source with knowledge of the league’s thinking, the NFL is anticipating the congregation of fans outside stadiums that aren’t open for business. As the source explained it, parking lots can be set up for social distancing via the separation of cars, even if the people at the tailgates don’t stay six feet apart from people in their own group or other groups.

Some teams could decide to recapture lost revenue by selling parking spots (probably at a premium), and likewise making food, beer, merchandise, and even programs available.

Here’s the reality: If people aren’t required to stay inside their homes but aren’t permitted to go inside a stadium, they can show up outside the stadium. There’s every reason to turn those throngs into cash.

Some teams may choose to lock their parking lots in order to prevent fans from showing up. Still, at some point near the stadium there will be a perimeter created by the team. On the other side of that perimeter, nothing will stop fans from driving up, parking their cars, cracking open a few beers, grill up a few burgers, and watch the game.

This leads to an obvious question. If nothing in a given community will stop fans from assuming the risk and showing up outside the stadium, why not let them in? The league’s lawyers are leading the charge against opening the gates, but some in league circles believe that, given that outdoor transmission is more difficult to accomplish than indoor transmission, fans who show up and wear masks and potentially are spaced apart by six feet should be permitted to do so.

Even without six feet of separation, and as the source said, “It will be less risky than many other behaviors going on in the country now.”

So in this crazy, upside-down, Twilight Zone existence that is 2020, get ready for the possibility that pro football stadiums will be empty on the inside — and that thousands will be gathered on the outside to hang out, root for the home team, watch the game, and celebrate or commiserate together.