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Patriots, Titans and Bears to open seasons behind closed doors

The New England Patriots, Tennessee Titans and Chicago Bears have announced they will open their 2020 seasons behind closed doors, as NFL teams continue to weigh up how to admit fans to their stadia during COVID-19.

The Patriots made their announcement after consulting with the Massachusetts Reopening Advisory Board and have been told fans will not be allowed to attend Gillette Stadium through to at least the end of September.

As a result, the Patriots home opener against the Miami Dolphins on September 13 and the game on September 27 will be played without fans in attendance. The Advisory Board’s stance also affects Major League Soccer (MLS) franchise New England Revolution, who play at Gillette Stadium. Their next three home matches, on August 20, 29 and September 2, will also be played behind closed doors.

The Patriots last month stated they expected to operate Gillette Stadium at 20% capacity. However, yesterday’s (Tuesday’s) announcement was prefaced by Governor Charlie Baker stating that he would not allow this to happen. The Patriots and Gillette Stadium stated that while they “fully support” the state’s position, they hope to have fans in attendance later in the season.

A statement added: “Since the onset of the pandemic, Gillette Stadium officials have worked closely with the reopening board, a host of state and local officials, the National Football League, Major League Soccer and the Massachusetts’ Large Venue Task Force, as well as a team of independent experts that span many disciplines, including infectious disease, emergency medicine, architectural design and planning, crowd flow dynamics, cleaning and disinfecting, ventilation, air conditioning and food safety.

“With their expertise, we developed a detailed plan and are confident in our ability to provide a safe and comfortable environment for fans, thanks to Gillette Stadium’s ample space as an outdoor venue and the infrastructure that allows us to meet or exceed all CDC guidelines.”

Nashville Mayor John Cooper and the Titans also announced yesterday that the team’s home opener at Nissan Stadium, against the Jacksonville Jaguars on September 20, would be held without fans as a result of the pandemic.

The announcement also affects another MLS team, with Nashville SC currently calling Nissan Stadium home as it plans for a new soccer-specific stadium. Nashville’s home matches against Inter Miami on August 30, as well as Orlando City (September 2) and Atlanta United (September 12) will be played behind closed doors.

In recent months, the Titans have worked in conjunction with local health experts, including the Metro Health Department, to build the Titans Safe Stadium Plan. The team said it will continue its preparation and collaboration with local authorities in the hope that fans are allowed to attend games soon.

Highlights of the Safe Stadium Plan include mandatory face coverings, structured ingress and egress planning, socially-distant seating, contactless faucets, hand sanitiser stations throughout the stadium and individually-wrapped food.

“Though the time to open its gates isn’t quite here yet, the good news is that the Titans have the right road map,” said Michael C Caldwell, director and chief medical officer of the Nashville Metro Public Health Department.

“I’m confident that the plan we created together is a careful, well-rounded design that will provide a large degree of protection for fans attending games in the hopefully near future. I know the team has made the necessary preparations to implement significant safety measures when the time comes.”

Meanwhile, the Bears and the City of Chicago have announced that fans will not be allowed to attend games at Soldier Field on an indefinite basis. The Bears’ opening home game of the season is scheduled to be against the New York Giants on September 20.

The team announced last month that there will be no season ticket packages available for the 2020 season. Instead, should fans be allowed to attend games, only individual game tickets will be made available exclusively to season ticket holders.

The Bears said: “The Chicago Bears, Soldier Field’s management partner, ASM Global, the Chicago Park District and public health officials have worked together to assess whether a responsible plan that follows city, state, CDC and NFL guidelines could be developed to safely accommodate a limited number of fans at Soldier Field this season.

“After discussing a draft plan with city health officials, the Bears and the City of Chicago agreed the health metrics show that it is not the right time to welcome fans back to Soldier Field. The health and safety of the city’s residents and fans of the Bears will always take priority.

“The team and city will continue to monitor the environment and believe there can be a sound plan in place to bring fans back to Soldier Field once it is deemed safe and appropriate. Until then, Bears home games will not include in-person fans.”

The announcements from the three teams come after the Kansas City Chiefs this week said Arrowhead Stadium will operate at 22% capacity for the 2020 season.

Image: New England Patriots