The Pittsburgh Steelers are poised to become the latest NFL team to return fans to their stadium, but the Green Bay Packers have placed an “indefinite hold” on plans for spectators to attend Lambeau Field.

The Steelers yesterday (Tuesday) notified season ticket holders who had previously opted into attending home games if possible during the 2020 season that the team would be welcoming approximately 5,500 fans for each of the two games at 68,400-capacity Heinz Field in October.

The Steelers are due to host the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday, before the Cleveland Browns visit on October 18. The moves has been made possible after Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf yesterday announced the state will alter venue gathering limits from Friday.

A sliding scale has been introduced limiting attendance to 3,750 for the largest indoor spaces and 7,500 for the largest outdoor venues. However, with the City of Philadelphia yet to confirm its plans, the Eagles are set to continue behind closed doors for now at Lincoln Financial Field.

Steelers president Art Rooney II said: “Under the guidance provided by the Governor’s office, we are limited to 7,500 total in the stadium, which includes players, coaches, stadium staff, etc. Based on these limitations we will only be able to make available to our fans approximately 5,500 seats in the lower seating bowl at Heinz Field.

“Priority will be given to our season ticket holders who did not opt out this season. Seat selection opportunities will be based on a computer-generated random selection of season ticket holder accounts. Unfortunately, we may not have tickets available for all season ticket holders for this game.

“All fans entering the stadium will be required to wear masks and maintain social distancing protocols throughout Heinz Field. Tailgating will not be permitted in the stadium parking lots.”

The Packers announced yesterday that due to the “concerning increase” of COVID-19 cases and hospitalisations in the Green Bay area and across the state of Wisconsin, an indefinite hold will be placed on hosting fans for games at Lambeau Field this season. 

In August, the Packers said Lambeau Field would 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. However, the team has now ruled that in order to host fans at the 81,441-capacity stadium, the area will need to see a “marked improvement” in the rate of hospitalisations, as well as the community infection rate and positivity rate. 

Packers president and CEO Mark Murphy told the Green Bay Press-Gazette the team met with health officials last week. “They were very strong we should not have fans,” he said. 

Murphy continued: “It’s disappointing. We’d all love to have fans in the stadium. I think we’d be negligent if we had people in now with the numbers the way they are. It’s challenging just getting the games played. You add the dimension of having fans in the stands, that’s just another issue to deal with, it’s another potential problem.”

Murphy said Green Bay was singled out on an NFL call as being one of the worst hot spots for COVID-19 in the US. He added: “There was a graph, I think it was the infection rate for 100,000, and we were No.1 by like three times. Nobody was even close to us.”

However in Ohio, the Browns and the Cincinnati Bengals have received positive news with the state’s Department of Health giving the green light for the teams to double the number of fans permitted at their stadia to 12,000.

The Browns’ FirstEnergy Stadium has a capacity of 67,895, while the Bengals’ home, Paul Brown Stadium, admits 65,535. The State of Ohio last month granted the Browns and Bengals permission to host up to 6,000 fans at their opening two home games.

Image: Pittsburgh Steelers