The New Orleans Saints will welcome fans back to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Sunday as part of a “phased and deliberate” pilot approach that appears to end talk that the NFL team could take its games to other stadia.

New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, in partnership with the Saints, yesterday (Tuesday) agreed to the pilot strategy, beginning with this weekend’s game against the Carolina Panthers. Season ticket holders will have access to 3,000 tickets for Sunday’s game.

Barring any change in local health and safety guidelines, capacity at the 74,295-seat Superdome is then planned to increase to 6,000 fans for the November 15 game against the San Francisco 49ers and November 22 encounter against Atlanta Falcons.

Capacity would then increase to 15,000 for the December 20 Kansas City Chiefs and December 25 Minnesota Vikings home games, again barring any change in local health and safety guidelines. In a statement, the Saints said: “The Saints and Mayor Cantrell’s office encourage all of our fans to wear your mask while in public, practicing good hygiene and maintaining social distance.

“It is imperative that everyone do their part to make sure all of the progress made by our community in our fight against COVID-19 is not lost and we have no setbacks. This plan is based on creating a healthy environment for our fans to arrive, enjoy and depart Saints home games safely.”

The announcement will make the Saints the 20th NFL team to welcome fans back in some capacity, with the Arizona Cardinals also set to have fans at State Farm Stadium for their game against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.

The Saints in August proposed a plan to Cantrell and Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards for 35% capacity at the Superdome, but this was rejected. Edwards subsequently gave the Saints approval for 25% capacity for the Week 3 fixture against the Green Bay Packers, but this was turned down by Cantrell.

The situation had led to the Saints last week meeting with Louisiana State University (LSU) to discuss hosting games at the 102,321-capacity Tiger Stadium, with potentially 21,000 supporters in the stands for Sunday’s Panthers game.

This situation has now seemingly been avoided and Cantrell said on Twitter yesterday: “I am allowing the Saints to move forward with this pilot exercise, allowing for limited seating in the Dome this Sunday, as part of a phased, incremental approach that is consistent with the City’s Phase 3 re-opening.

“An outbreak or a sudden increase in community spread would be reason to pause. I am glad to begin welcoming Saints fans back in the Dome! ALL depends on the current trends remaining stable.”

Meanwhile, the 49ers will remain without fans at Levi’s Stadium for the time being, despite the State of California yesterday permitting spectators in outdoor venues for professional sporting events in counties with low COVID-19 infection rates.

Under the state’s rules, teams can have limited capacity at outdoor stadia if they are based in a county in the lowest two levels of California’s four-tier model for reopening. San Francisco, along with neighbouring Alameda and Santa Clara, are the only counties that meet this threshold, but the 49ers and local officials are taking a cautious approach.

The 49ers said: “We appreciate Governor (Gavin) Newsom’s leadership and thoughtful approach in creating a framework that allows for a return of fans to Levi’s Stadium, and restart the economic activity of the region. We welcome our fans and their support of local businesses and vendors that are critical to our local economy, especially during these difficult times. 

“Our organisation will continue to collaborate with local public health officials to implement a plan that protects the health and wellness of all San Francisco 49ers and Levi’s Stadium employees, patrons, and our community.”

The state guidance would permit as many as 14,000 fans at 68,500-capacity Levi’s Stadium, but Dr. Jeff Smith, Santa Clara County’s executive officer, said this sets up the possibility of creating “superspreader” events.

“It’s a matter of reasonable scientific decision-making instead of political decision-making,” Smith said, according to the Associated Press news agency. “Putting an audience in a stadium in large groups is just asking for trouble. It’s like a petri dish.”

No county in Southern California has met the new state thresholds meaning that the new SoFi Stadium remains out of bounds for fans of the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers.

Image: New Orleans Saints