Browns, Bengals and Colts to welcome fans for new NFL season

The State of Ohio has granted the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals permission to host up to 6,000 fans at their opening two home games, while the Indianapolis Colts will be able to welcome up to 2,500 spectators to their home opener as NFL fan attendance plans continue to vary according to local guidance.

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine has granted the Browns and Bengals a variance to the state sports order implemented to curb the spread of COVID-19. “This year will certainly be different, but both the Browns and the Bengals have worked exceedingly hard and have made extensive preparations to welcome a limited number of fans to their stadiums safely,” DeWine said.

“These very thorough plans and safety precautions warrant a two-game trial to try and accommodate fans, at reduced capacities with social distancing and masks.”

For the Bengals, this will cover the games at Paul Brown Stadium on October 4 against the Jacksonville Jaguars and October 25 versus the Browns. The Browns open their home schedule at FirstEnergy Stadium (pictured) against the Bengals on September 17, followed by the visit of Washington Football Team on September 27.

The variance will allow no more than 1,500 fans in each quarter of the seating bowl and will require spectators to arrive through a designated entrance. Fans will be required to wear masks throughout gameday, including ingress, during the game and egress.

A FirstEnergy Stadium Responsible Restart Plan includes a number of significant changes to gameday operations, including the requirement of facial coverings, a quadrant system that separates fans into specific zones with a dedicated gate based on their seating location, recommended time windows for entry, pre-game health screenings and ticket distribution in “pods of known fans” for the reduced capacity.

The Browns said: “We will continue to closely monitor the ever-evolving circumstances related to COVID-19 and remain in frequent dialogue… so we can properly adapt as needed with the hopes of potentially allowing more fans to attend games at a later date, if circumstances allow.

“For the past four months, our organisation has done extensive work in consultation… to incorporate best practices and robust protocols that prioritise health and safety and allow for a reduced number of fans in the stadium for Browns games this fall.

“We are confident in our plan and our ability to execute it. We also fully recognise that education, collective buy-in and a commitment to shared responsibility are extremely important to the plan’s success, along with diligent cooperation and compliance from our fans.”

Meanwhile, the Colts have said they will host a maximum of 2,500 attendees at Lucas Oil Stadium for the team’s home opener on September 20 versus the Minnesota Vikings. The attendance number was determined following discussions with the Marion County Public Health Department and was set to meet local, NFL, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines to help limit the spread of COVID-19.

The Colts said they will meet with local health officials as early as this week to discuss capacity for future games.

The Carolina Panthers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week became the latest NFL teams to confirm that they will begin the 2020 season without fans in attendance. The majority of NFL teams will start their seasons in empty stadiums, but along with the Browns, Bengals and Colts, the Miami Dolphins, Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs and Dallas Cowboys are planning on allowing a limited number of fans.

Image: Cleveland Browns