New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy holds some optimism that there could be fans at NFL games this upcoming season at MetLife Stadium. He says this as a huge fan of football as he watches the recent pandemic data to get a full grasp on the likelihood of spectators at sports games this fall.
New Jersey is home to two NFL teams, the New York Giants and the New York Jets. Both franchises play at MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands Sports Complex.
While the NFL has been out of its season and hasn’t seen any games cancelled, the COVID-19 pandemic has certainly had an effect on the league, ranging from cancelling of most Pro Day workouts to the re-arranging of the NFL Draft to be held in commissioner Roger Goodell’s basement. Even player workouts at team facilities and things such as minicamps have largely been shelved, causing some chaos in the league’s calendar.
In terms of fans in attendance at games in the near future, Murphy (D) remains hopeful. Before speaking with SportsIllustrated.com on Friday afternoon, New Jersey’s governor was working in his office and watching in the background Borussia Mönchengladbach and against SC Freiburg soccer in Germany’s Bundesliga. Murphy, who along with his wife is a partner owner of women’s soccer team Sky Blue in the NWSL, praised the German league for opening up to play without the presence of fans.
It is a tricky situation for the governor given the state’s ties to the NFL as the league does more than just play games in New Jersey. The Giants have their practice facility within the confines of the Meadowlands complex and the Jets are further west in Florham Park. Both teams, despite having New York on their helmets, are fully embedded in New Jersey.
After New York, it was New Jersey that had the country’s second most cases of the coronavirus and related fatalities. Because New Jersey is heavily invested in the game with two NFL teams that both practice and play in the state, it is a bit of a bell weather in terms of how other teams around the country might respond.
The governor has shown pragmatic leadership over the past three months, choosing caution over calls to open things up and resume normal.
“I’ve spoken to Roger Goodell, we speak with the Giants and the Jets all the time. I think it’s too early to tell on fans. We’re taking at this point, baby steps and slowly but surely trying to get there beginning with the staffs, the coaches, the players and I think we have to see where it goes from here,” Murphy told SportsIllustrated.com.
“The trends in New Jersey right now – we have over 12,000 fatalities – but the ones we talk about each day are folks that have been infected for weeks. You look at the other data for the past several weeks, it is all gotten really quite good. We’re not out of the woods yet, but we’re getting much, much better.
“If those trends keep up, you fast forward some months from now and you’ve been able to continue those trends, you’re in a very different place. We’re trying to do this incrementally. We’ll see and play it by ear as best we can. We’ll make a decision based on the data. The data right now is good.”
It makes for a difficult series of decisions for Murphy heading into the fall. Attendance of games drives significant revenue to the Meadowlands and surrounding towns with dining, hotels and other industries aided by each New York team playing their home games at MetLife Stadium.
With no fans, there is also potentially the loss of revenue within the stadium and the hundreds of jobs provided every week to staff the facility for the tens of thousands of fans who come to watch the NFL.
Murphy wants to see fans at the game and when asked if he thinks fans will return at some point this season, he said there’s a chance.
“Yes, there is a possibility, it could be. But I can’t promise it. I don’t think anyone can,” Murphy said.
“Not just that, I don’t think anyone has that crystal ball with complete clarity of where this virus is going to go, where our behavior is going to go…on top of the worst health care crisis in the history of the country, we now have an extraordinary killing in broad daylight of a black man that has stain of racism. And the protesting and now people are congregating to voice their angry which I completely get, I completely support. But that’s another dimension we now have to add in to where this is taking us.”
Notes from Murphy’s conversation with SI...
Murphy on what the return of the NFL to MetLife Stadium and New Jersey would mean: “I would love that, I mean I’m a huge sports fan. Jersey is a sports mecca and we have the rainbow of sports. Everything. Women’s and men’s. Girls and boys. I’d love nothing more than to responsibly get sports up and running at all levels by the way. As of June 22, we’re going to allow youth sports to begin non-contact training. At all levels, for mental health, for the sheer fun of it to get some semblance of normality back in our lives for all the above reasons. For the passions. Can’t wait, I can’t wait but we’ll do it responsibly. We’ll make the call based on what the data is telling us but I’d love to see us back in the full swing of sports.”
Murphy on if there will be high school sports in New Jersey this fall: “I’m not sure good to go but listen, my son is a rising senior. He plays soccer. We had this conversation the other day, I think you can see the path. Again, I think it’s really hard. Think back for a minute, it is June 5. Think back to March 5, three months ago. That would have been the day after our first positive test in New Jersey. Could we have predicted then what we faced and dealt with three months later? I would suggest that you and I or anybody right now cannot say with clarity what September 5 looks like, three months from now. Do I hope for it? Does the recent data suggest that we’re headed to a really good place to allow us to be there? We just have to keep it up.”