NFL franchise Washington Football Team has announced its 2020 season will play out behind closed doors at FedExField, while Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has expressed his determination to ensure fans can attend games at AT&T Stadium.

Washington, which last month announced that it would be retiring its controversial Redskins name and logo following a thorough review, said the decision has been taken despite the organisation having developed a comprehensive health and safety plan in close coordination with the State of Maryland and Prince George’s County.

The team said the decision to close off the 82,000-seat FedExField to fans “comes out of an abundance of caution” due to the rapidly changing dynamics of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Washington said its stance will be re-evaluated by all parties should the situation improve over the course of the season.

“We are fortunate to host the best fans in the NFL year after year, but the well-being of those supporters, along with that of our players, coaches and each and every member of our gameday staff is simply too important, and the current knowledge of COVID-19 too unpredictable, to welcome our fan base to FedExField to start the season,” said Washington Football Team owner Dan Snyder.

“We were the first team in the league to recall our scouts and other personnel from the field back in mid-March and have been monitoring this evolving situation ever since. This decision was not an easy one, but after several discussions with federal, state and local officials – along with input from some of the nation’s foremost medical experts, based right here in the nation’s capital – we are confident that it is the right one.

“We are working to find ways to make our fans’ presence felt in new and innovative ways for 2020 and can’t wait to welcome the community through the gates as soon as it’s safe.”

The franchise said it has reached out to season ticket members with financial alternatives for their ticket plans.

Meanwhile, Jones has said the Cowboys are still planning to welcome fans to AT&T Stadium, stating the NFL can act as an example for COVID-19 response. The state of Texas currently stipulates that sports venues can only admit a maximum of 50% of their capacity, and with AT&T Stadium regularly recording attendances in excess of 100,000 this represents a significant number of fans.

The Cowboys have already cancelled season tickets for 2020, but Jones, one of the most prominent owners in the NFL, said at a press conference yesterday (Wednesday): “The Dallas Cowboys plan on playing all of our football games and we plan on playing in front of our fans. We all know what’s going on in this country today. A 50-50 debate about going to school, a 50-50 debate on wearing masks. It’s all about a challenge. I think it’s important. I think it’s important for our country. The NFL can be an inspirational part of how we address COVID, not only this year but how we go into 2021.”

Jones said he wasn’t prepared to put a number on potential capacity limits, but said AT&T Stadium has made some “extraordinary” changes to adapt to the COVID world. He said the stadium’s three million square feet of space would cater to social distancing, while its side doors could create a unique “naturally-built” air flow.

Jones continued: “I’m really proud that we have this stadium to work with. We’ll adhere to all protocols. We’ll adapt them to the uniqueness of our stadium. I think we’re going to be able to have a great experience. I’m confident we will have a very educated situation with our fans.”

Jones also mentioned the idea of a “pod” concept, where fans could be spaced out in groups of no more than 15 individuals. However, he maintained that fans would bear liability should they choose to attend games.

He added: “The people that will attend will be there of their own volition. Our fans will be in the stadium because they’ve chosen to be there, as we ourselves have.”

The New Orleans Saints also announced yesterday that the team will not host fans at the first home game this season, on September 13 versus Tampa Bay Buccaneers, due to the state of COVID-19 infections throughout the Louisiana region.

Since the beginning of the crisis, the Saints have been working with a team of medical experts and health and safety professionals from Ochsner Health, state and local authorities and the NFL to determine how, or if, it could safely host fans at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome this season.

Working with Ochsner; ASM Global, managers of the Superdome; the NFL and other experts in health and safety has resulted in what the Saints described as a set of comprehensive health and safety guidelines and protocols, which would allow the team to have fans attend our games.

However, following a meeting with health and safety experts, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards and New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, the Saints have said trends across the state and region do not meet the standards of health and safety required to have fans at the first game, adding that “significant improvement” is required for this to change.

The team, along with health and safety experts, will monitor trends to determine if fans will be able to attend the September 27 game versus Green Bay, although this has been described as unlikely.

NFL teams have taken differing approaches to the subject of having fans in their stadia. The Green Bay Packers last week announced Lambeau Field will not host fans for the first two home games of the 2020 regular season, with a view to changing this approach from that point onwards as part of an “incremental” strategy.

Earlier, it was announced that the new 65,000-seat Allegiant Stadium will be closed to Las Vegas Raiders fans for the 2020 season amid ongoing restrictions caused by the pandemic.

The Atlanta Falcons have said there will be a limited capacity of between 10,000 and 20,000 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium for home games. The Los Angeles Rams have said their new SoFi Stadium will be at limited or no capacity in 2020, while season tickets will not be possible for its debut campaign.

The New York Giants and New York Jets announced their games at MetLife Stadium will be held behind closed doors until further notice to meet COVID-19 regulations in the state of New Jersey. The New England Patriots stated they expect to operate Gillette Stadium at 20% capacity.

The Baltimore Ravens became the first team in the league to specify its intended attendance cap if fans are allowed at games during the 2020 season, with the Jacksonville Jaguars following suit. The Philadelphia Eagles have been informed by city leaders that they shouldn’t expect to have fans in Lincoln Financial Field this season.

Image: FedExField