Facing potentially bleak financial picture, NFL is counting on fans in the stands

The Patriots would lose more than half their revenue without fans, according to Forbes.

Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, left, speaks to New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft before an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, left, said he plans to have fans in the stands this season. –AP Photo/Charles Krupa

Last week, Forbes released its estimates of what the NFL would lose in stadium revenue should this season’s games be played without fans present in the stands: $5.5 billion, or 38% of its total revenue. Some teams would lose more than others, with Forbes citing the Cowboys and Patriots as franchises that would lose more than half their revenue and the Bills, the Titans and Bengals as franchises that would lose less than one-third of their revenue.

The Miami Dolphins, Forbes estimates, would lose an estimated $172 million in stadium revenue without fans present, or around 39% of their total revenue (the 11th-biggest hit in the league). Suffice to say, owner Stephen Ross ideally would like fans to be present when the regular season begins in September, if distancing guidelines created by the novel coronavirus pandemic allow it.

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“I think there definitely will be a football season this year,” Ross said Tuesday on CNBC. “Real question is, will there be fans in the stadium? Right now – today – we’re planning to have fans in the stadium.”

“We all miss our sports,” Ross continued. “The NFL, I think, will be ready to go. I know we’re all looking forward to it. I know I am.”

Ross echoed comments made Friday by Troy Vincent, the NFL’s executive vice president of football operations.

“We are planning to have full stadiums until the medical community tells us otherwise,” Vincent said on the Team 980 in Washington. “Now remember when we’re talking – we’re talking about September, August, September. So there’s a lot that can happen here. So we’re planning for full stadiums.

“We also know that we have to plan for half stadiums. Three-quarters. So we’re planning for all of these different scenarios. But first and foremost, we’re making every effort, working with the medical community, if we can have those stadiums with all people until they tell us otherwise when that time comes, that’s our plan. That’s our plan of action.”

Some teams, the Dolphins included, have contingency plans in place in case fans aren’t allowed back into stadiums, or if fans are allowed but restricted in their activities. Earlier this month, Miami team president/CEO Tom Garfinkel unveiled how the team would encourage spectators to keep their distance: All fans would wear masks, and colored spots on the ground outside Hard Rock Stadium would indicate proper social distancing as spectators wait to enter. Food would be ordered from the seat and then picked up at the designated concession stand, eliminating the need for lines. Fans would be given a specific time to enter the stadium, and spectators would depart games row by row.

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To accomplish this, attendance likely would have to be limited to well below the stadium’s 65,000-seat capacity, with around 15,000 allowed to watch live.

Last week, the Pittsburgh Steelers announced that only 50 percent of individual 2020 game tickets will be sold to the public so the team can be prepared for social-distancing scenarios.

The Centers for Disease Control continues to recommend against large gatherings, and a number of states are following that recommendation as they continue reopening processes that may extend past the start of the NFL regular season. Pennsylvania, which is home to two NFL franchises, says it will not allow any large gatherings over the entirety of its three-stage reopening process (as of Monday, 49 of the state’s 67 counties had proceeded into the second stage of the process). In California, home to three NFL teams, Gov. Gavin Newsom, D, has said that large gatherings such as NFL games will not be permitted in the state “until we get to herd immunity and we get to a vaccine.”

On Tuesday, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced that the state’s professional sports teams (the Jets and Giants among them) “may return to training and even competition – if their leagues choose to move in that direction.” However, the state still is limiting the size of gatherings to 25 people.


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