The Pittsburgh Steelers have expressed their disappointment after it was confirmed season ticket holders and other fans will not be permitted for Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field, while fellow NFL team the Green Bay Packers are lining up their biggest attendance of the season for their opening playoff encounter.

The Steelers were hopeful of having fans back in the stands for the AFC Wild Card game. However, spokesman Burt Lauten said yesterday (Thursday): “We were hoping to receive approval to host fans for the playoffs at a capacity similar to our games in October and November, but unfortunately the state’s orders will only permit 2,500 total people in the building, including players, coaches and staff. This will limit fans in the seating bowl to family and friends of players and the team.”

The Steelers’ opening two home games at Heinz Field were played behind closed doors, but around 5,000 fans were permitted for the following three games. This run was ended when the Steelers were forced to restrict access to family and friends of players and the organisation for December games following new orders from Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf and the state health director.

Meanwhile, the Packers have announced their Divisional Playoff game at Lambeau Field will include attendance by season ticket holders in addition to invited frontline healthcare workers and first responders.

Approximately 6,000 tickets will be available for purchase for the game, whose date and opponent has yet to be decided, for season ticket holders who opted in to attending games. Seats will be arranged in socially distanced pods of two, four and six tickets throughout the stadium, with prices ranging from $127 (£93/€103) to $177.

An additional number of guests will be in attendance, including invited frontline healthcare workers and first responders, as well as a league-mandated allotment for the visiting team. Tickets will not be able to be resold or transferred and all tickets will be mobile.

The plan for an increased number of attendees builds upon the successful COVID-19 protocols the team used for its final four regular-season home games. The Packers last month announced that for the remainder of the 2020 regular season, game attendees at Lambeau Field would be limited to team employees and their household families, with the team previously not allowing any game attendees at all.

Packers president and CEO, Mark Murphy, said yesterday: “Our players have enjoyed the energy provided by the limited fans we’ve had over the past four games. We’re looking forward to welcoming our season ticket holders to add to that atmosphere in the playoffs. We’ve seen our COVID-19 protocols in action and are confident we can safely add additional fans.”

The team said it has been guided by healthcare partner Bellin Health, as well as officials with Brown County Public Health, to implement thorough protocols that have been in place during the last four regular season home games.

It stated that the protocols used at Lambeau Field and across the NFL have proven to be effective as no local COVID-19 case clusters have been traced to NFL games according to the relevant health departments in NFL cities. Through the regular season, the NFL had a total of 109 games with more than one million fans in attendance.

The protocols used at Lambeau Field include requiring attendees to remain within their socially distanced pod of seats unless using the restroom or purchasing food or beverages. Other protocols include the use of mobile tickets as the method of entry, enhanced cleaning measures in the stadium, hand sanitiser stations throughout the concourse, cashless concession locations and required face coverings. Tailgating in the Lambeau Field parking lots also will be prohibited for playoff games.

Dr. Michael Landrum, infectious disease specialist with Bellin Health, said: “The regular-season games have demonstrated the precautions in place will prevent further spread of the virus and we hope this will continue to demonstrate that while we may have to make adjustments to coexist with the virus, it is possible to make the necessary changes that will allow us to stop the spread as a community.”

In October, the Packers told TheStadiumBusiness.com how they remained “hopeful” that fans would return to Lambeau Field this season, as the stadium transitioned to a cashless venue.

Image: Green Bay Packers