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Event news: Pro Bowl, US Open, Premier League and more

Pro Bowl

Allegiant Stadium, future home of the NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders, has secured its latest major event with the announcement that the American football league will stage its annual Pro Bowl at the venue next year.

The NFL’s all star game has been held at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida since 2017, but will debut in Vegas on January 31, 2021.

The Pro Bowl has been held the week before the Super Bowl since 2010 and is designed to be a weeklong celebration of the sport leading up to its showpiece event. The 2021 Pro Bowl will feature various activities in Las Vegas including the NFL FLAG Championship games, AFC and NFC team practices and for the fifth consecutive year, Pro Bowl Skills Showdown, featuring the NFL’s biggest stars from each conference.

The NFL said Caesars Entertainment, the League’s official casino sponsor and a founding partner of Allegiant Stadium, will use its casino properties for fan experiences during the 2021 Pro Bowl. Further details are to be announced at a later date.

In addition, Pro Bowl week will also be dedicated to supporting a series of community and charitable-focused events directly benefitting the local Las Vegas community.

“We look forward to partnering with the Raiders and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority to bring the excitement of Pro Bowl week to our Las Vegas fans and community for the first time,” said Peter O’Reilly, the NFL’s executive vice-president of club business and league events.

“We thank the city of Orlando for its outstanding partnership in helping us to grow and evolve the Pro Bowl over the last four years. To our partners at Florida Citrus Sports, Camping World Stadium, ESPN Wide World of Sports, and Visit Orlando, we appreciate your tremendous efforts over the years and look forward to creating more memorable moments together in the future.”

The 65,000-seat Allegiant Stadium, which sees the Raiders relocate from Oakland to Vegas, is scheduled to be completed by the end of July. Its opening event is due to be a concert by country music star Garth Brooks on August 22.

Raiders president Marc Badain said: “Pro Bowl week is a celebration of the best the NFL has to offer and there is no better place than Las Vegas to celebrate and honour the league’s biggest stars. The NFL, the LVCVA (Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority) and the Raiders look forward to a world class event that will set the standard for future NFL events in Las Vegas.”

US Open

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has given the green light for the 2020 US Open to be held behind closed doors, with the United States Tennis Association (USTA) stating it plans to use the grand slam tournament to showcase tennis as the “ideal social distancing sport”.

The US Open is now set to take place from August 31 to September 13 as the second grand slam of the year. Cuomo yesterday (Tuesday) made the announcement as he stated global public health experts have cleared the Capital Region to enter phase three of the state’s COVID-19 reopening plan from today.

Cuomo said the USTA will take extraordinary precautions to protect players and staff, including robust testing, additional cleaning, extra locker room space and dedicated housing and transportation at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

He added: “I am so proud what the people of this state have done to defeat this virus. The numbers are looking very good, and today we are excited to announce that the U.S. Open will be held in Queens without fans this August. We must remain vigilant and the USTA is taking all necessary precautions with players and staff, but this is an exciting day for the state.”

The USTA said it will make an official announcement detailing its full plans for the US Open later today, but its vision will also see the 2020 Western & Southern Open relocated from Cincinnati to take place at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center ahead of the grand slam.

However, there remains doubts as to how many players will commit to the US Open with a number of leading stars expressing their misgivings over competing somewhere that has been a hot spot for COVID-19. Indeed, an indoor tennis facility at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center temporarily housed hundreds of hospital beds at the height of New York’s struggles with the global pandemic.

Mike Dowse, USTA chief executive and executive director, said: “We recognise the tremendous responsibility of hosting one of the first global sporting events in these challenging times, and we will do so in the safest manner possible, mitigating all potential risks.

“We now can give fans around the world the chance to watch tennis’ top athletes compete for a US Open title, and we can showcase tennis as the ideal social distancing sport. Being able to hold these events in 2020 is a boost for the City of New York and the entire tennis landscape.”

Premier League

The 2019-20 English Premier League season resumes later today, with officials stating that talks are taking place over returning fans to stadia while warning that a return to the controversial neutral venues system could be implemented if supporters don’t stay away in the meantime.

The Premier League has been suspended since March 13, but its return was given the green light last month with Aston Villa to take on Sheffield United at 6pm GMT before Manchester City hosts Arsenal at 8:15pm GMT.

Premier League chief executive Richard Masters did not give a timeframe for the closed doors model to end, but said talks have commenced with the government. He told BBC Sport: “The Premier League is back but it won’t be fully back until we get those fans back inside the stadium. We’re very keen to see fans back in the stadium at the earliest possible juncture when it’s safe and appropriate to do so.”

Masters warned that by congregating outside stadia, fans would be putting the traditional home and away model at risk. He added: “It is a big moment because it’s unprecedented and it will feel different because we haven’t got fans inside the stadium. But whilst it’ll feel different, hopefully what’s riding on the games, the quality of the football and the passion, some of the Premier League will still come through.”

Neutral venues had been mooted for several games due to safety and security concerns. Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston said there would be “implications” if fans ignored advice to stay away from grounds. “We have had this long debate of whether we have neutral stadia versus home games and I think neutral comes back on the cards if we can’t manage local crowds,” he said.

Huddleston said fans attending games represents the final move on the government’s five-step plan for the resumption of elite sport. “The key step there is the social distancing measures that need to be in place,” he added. “In terms of getting the green light, it will absolutely be driven by medical advice at the time in terms of social distancing and large gatherings.”

Meanwhile, the League has detailed the full plans in place to enhance the fan experience of closed doors games for those watching at home. At all 20 Premier League stadiums, there will be a wrap covering seats in the lower tiers. These stadium wraps will be designed by each club and will aim to improve the environment both visually and acoustically, as well as creating consistency across the competition.

For the first time, fans will be able to listen in to the coin toss featuring the two captains and the match officials, as the audio will now be captured live. Clubs can use music at key trigger moments such as kick-off, goals and substitutions by the home club, but not while the ball is in play.

Fans watching from home will be able to enhance their viewing experience by selecting EA Sports Atmospheric Audio. This will give them crowd noise during the match recorded for EA from the teams’ fans in previous live matches.

At many matches there will be the chance for players to see the fans, as live video feeds featuring 16 supporters from each club will be made available to broadcasters and to clubs for use on big screens. Where feasible at stadiums, broadcasters will identify a celebration camera that players can head to after scoring.

In the build-up to matches, supporters will get to see what happens in the tunnel as there will be fixed cameras in place to watch the players prepare for the match. However, these feeds will not include sound.

A number of Premier League clubs have also detailed their own ventures in recent weeks.

Formula E

Electric motor racing series Formula E has today announced that it will conclude its suspended 2019-20 season with six races in nine days at Tempelhof Airport in Berlin, Germany.

The historic German airfield has been chosen to close out the current season, hosting three double-headers on August 5-6, 8-9 and 12-13. Each pair of races will use a different track configuration, with events held behind closed doors.

Formula E initially suspended its season in March for two months due to COVID-19, before extending this through June. Formula E had already completed five races before the season was suspended due to the outbreak, with the Berlin plan to take the total number of rounds to 11.

Formula E and the International Automobile Federation (FIA) said they have been working in close consultation with teams and local authorities to define a “robust plan” to conclude the championship in a safe manner. To mitigate risk, Formula E is implementing strict safety measures including racing behind closed doors with only essential staff and competitors travelling to the event.

As per German government guidelines, there will be a maximum number of 1,000 people on site at any given time, including local suppliers and medical crews. All other operations will be carried out remotely.

Key health and safety protocol includes mandatory coronavirus testing prior to the races, as well as on-site screening every day upon arrival at the track. Formula E will also actively enforce the use of face masks, social distancing and limit movement across workspaces with clearly defined zones for different event populations.

Formula E chief executive Jamie Reigle said: “Since taking action to suspend our season in March, we have emphasised a revised calendar which places the health and safety of our community first, represents Formula E’s distinct brand of city-centre racing and offers an exciting conclusion to the compelling season of racing we had seen so far. We’re heading to Berlin Tempelhof, a venue that our teams, drivers and fans love, to stage a nine-day festival of racing with three back-to-back double-headers.

“The festival will feature three track layouts, presenting a new challenge and creating the conditions for an unpredictable and drama-filled climax to our season.”