The New Orleans Saints fans may experience home games radically differently this season. COVID-19 guidelines are putting an extreme limit on large gatherings, and the NFL is no exception. The Mercedes-Benz Superdome’s capacity is 74,000 fans, but the 6 feet rule could cap attendance to only 13,000 fans (17.5%).
The NFL has yet to release official instructions for fans, but ASM Global Vice President Doug Thornton is moving forward with more details on the social-distance experience at Saints home games. He believes that they can manage social distancing mandate, but the ASM Rep stressed over 17.5% is needed in the Dome. Thornton is working closely with the Saints to find innovative ways to increase the arena’s capacity safely.
“The Saints have been good at using their business models to help us create a seating manifest that allows us to adhere to the six-foot distancing rule but still increase the capacity,” Thornton said. One idea mentioned is to seat fans in pods of four, six, or eight and allow families traveling together to sit in the same sections. Thornton's goal is to increase attendance to 20,000 - 30,000, if not higher.
ASM Global’s VP told the board of Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District at a meeting Thursday, “Everyone knows there are no definitive plans yet except that they plan to have a season,” said Thornton. “It could be everything from starting without fans, migrating to limited capacity in the early part of the season, and maybe increasing that capacity if things go well. All of those thoughts are being explored now. We know that whatever the NFL does, they will adhere to the local restrictions and laws that may be in place.” One thing is clear, football stadiums are preparing to manage events with fans in attendance under a six-foot social distancing guideline.
Officials are creating safety protocols and procedures for the fans' entrance and movement within the Superdome. Unfortunately, fans may not have the same experience if 70,000 people were in the building with free-flowing concessions, but ASM thinks they can accomplish it. The Superdome is one of the first arenas to have an open dialogue on how a season would look with fans. ASM is calling the Saint's plan, 'The Associated Guest Model,' and hope to have more information out by June.
The Superdome and Smoothie King Center are not only dealing with social distancing mandates, but questions linger about event cancellations and the economic fallout. Event cancellations are hurting the arena's revenue. The Essence Festival and NCAA Women’s Final Four cancellations caused a steep drop in the venues’ finances. Due to low hotel occupancies, a decrease in tax revenue from New Orleans area hotels has caused ASM to furlough staff. Superdome officials continue to revise budgets because of the new normal in this COVID-19 pandemic era.
It is interesting to mention a note from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome’s ticket marketplace, “Please note that due to circumstances of COVID-19, scheduling may be affected and the NFL, the teams or venues may cancel, reschedule or postpone games. Full refunds will be available if the NFL or the team cancels a game(s), and it cannot be replayed or if played under conditions that prohibit fans from attending. If a game is postponed or rescheduled, your tickets are valid for the new date, so hang onto them, and we will keep you posted.”