Roger Goodell said unprompted on a conference call Tuesday that the NFL expects to have full stadiums in the 2021 season.
“We are also discussing our plans to welcome back all of our fans for the 2021 season across the country at all NFL stadiums,” Goodell said during his opening remarks while announcing the league’s expansion to a 17-game regular season. “All of us in the NFL want to see every one of our fans back. Football is simply not the same without fans, and we expect to have full stadiums in the upcoming season.”
Goodell’s expectations are contingent on a lot of other variables, however, so while more fans will be in the seats, there is no guarantee all 30 buildings will be full.
If anything, Goodell sounded more hopeful on Tuesday, like he was trying to speak the reality of full stadiums into existence for a league that cashed in big on a recent media rights deal but also wants its ticket revenue to bounce back — well aware that it may not right away.
Any plan to increase fan attendance will only be contingent upon the approval and policies of state governors and local governments.
The NFL also is not requiring personnel or players to get vaccinated. They are encouraging it, according to Goodell. Similarly, the commissioner said the NFL’s policy for fans and vaccinations would be education. In other words, the NFL and its medical team will advocate in favor of the vaccine but will not require it.
How the lack of vaccine requirements impacts fan decisions remains to be seen.
“We are encouraging all our personnel to get vaccinations and we will be working with the NFLPA on all of these issues and continue to communicate with our clubs,” Goodell said. “We also will be working publicly to use our platforms to talk about the importance of vaccinations, the health consequences and the positive impact of having our communities vaccinated.”
Dr. Allen Sills, the league’s chief medical officer, talked to the owners during Tuesday’s virtual owners meetings in an effort to educate the clubs on the safety element, per Goodell.
Goodell and the owners are proud that 1.2 million fans attended games in 21 of the league’s 30 stadiums last season during the pandemic. Now they’re trying to bring more people back as the increased availability of vaccinations means a larger population of the general public is inoculated.
It’s already public that there will be fans in MetLife Stadium this fall after the Giants and Jets played in an empty home stadium last fall.
The stadium was allowed to welcome fans up to 15% capacity for all events beginning on March 1, per the order of New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy. And the hope since has been that the 15% number would increase by the time August rolls around for the preseason.
Everyone hopes Goodell’s optimism is rooted in reality. More than likely, the climb back to normalcy in NFL stadiums — like with the rest of society — will be much more complicated.