The NFL American football league has confirmed that it will schedule all games in the United States this year, meaning that no fixtures will be played at London’s Wembley Stadium or Tottenham Hotspur Stadium as originally planned.
The NFL’s planned game at Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca will also not go ahead as the league deals with the impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak. The league is due to release its full schedule on Thursday.
The move to play all games in the US will ensure fixtures can be held at teams’ stadia under consistent protocols focused on the wellbeing of players, personnel and fans. The decision has been taking following consultation between NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the relevant clubs, national and local governments, as well as the NFL Players Association, medical authorities and international stadium partners.
The NFL had been scheduled to play one game at the Estadio Azteca and two each at Wembley and Tottenham Hotspur Stadium during the 2020 season, although no official dates had been set. The Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Jacksonville Jaguars and Miami Dolphins had been due to serve as home teams during these fixtures and they will receive home advantage when the games take place in the US.
Christopher Halpin, NFL executive vice-president and chief strategy and growth officer, said: “After considerable analysis, we believe the decision to play all our games domestically this season is the right one for our players, our clubs, and all our fans in the US, Mexico and UK.
“We greatly appreciate the support of our governmental and stadium partners in Mexico and the United Kingdom, who all agree with this decision, and we look forward to returning for games in both countries in the 2021 season.
“We also thank our incredible fans in those territories for their passionate support of the NFL. We will continue to serve them through our outstanding media partners and by being active supporters of both grassroots football and COVID-19 relief efforts in Mexico and the UK.”
The Jaguars had been due to become the first NFL team to play multiple ‘home’ games outside the US in the same regular season, having been pencilled in to host two fixtures at Wembley. The Jaguars have taken one ‘home’ game to London every year since 2013 as part of a long-term arrangement.
Tottenham Hotspur Stadium hosted its first NFL games last year. The stadium is fitted with an NFL pitch and will stage at least two games a season as part of a 10-year deal between Tottenham and the NFL.
Meanwhile, the Dolphins have devised a plan that would allow fans to attend games at Hard Rock Stadium while observing social distancing guidelines when the 2020 season gets underway.
Hard Rock Stadium yesterday (Monday) announced that it has committed to becoming the first public facility to receive Global Biorisk Advisory Council (GBAC) STAR accreditation, which serves as the ‘gold standard’ for venues to implement cleaning, disinfection and infectious disease prevention work practices. GBAC is a division of global cleaning industry association ISSA.
In order to earn the accreditation, Hard Rock Stadium will complete 20 programme elements with specific performance and guidance criteria to enable it to establish and maintain a cleaning, disinfection and infectious disease prevention programme, provide assurance and establish confidence that the necessary cleaning measures are in place, and establish a framework for communication and raising awareness of best practices.
Speaking on Good Morning America yesterday, Dolphins and Hard Rock Stadium vice-chairman and chief executive Tom Garfinkel revealed mock-ups of new entrances at the venue, whereby fans would be separated out when they enter the stadium before leaving row-by-row “much like a church environment”.
Fans would be required to wear masks and order food from their seats rather than waiting in line. Hard Rock Stadium has a capacity of 65,000 but the Dolphins are considering allowing just 15,000 fans in next season to adhere to social distancing measures.
“When our fans, players and staff are able to return to Hard Rock Stadium, we want them to have peace of mind that we’re doing everything we can to create the safest and healthiest environment possible,” Garfinkel said. “We didn’t want to create our own standard, we wanted to be accountable to the most credible third-party standard that exists. Working with GBAC ensures compliance with critical guidelines for the highest standard of cleanliness and it is our hope that other venues will follow suit as we navigate through these unprecedented times.”