/How NFL teams plan to host fans amid pandemic

How NFL teams plan to host fans amid pandemic


Get to know the word “pods” when it comes to hosting fans inside NFL stadiums during a pandemic. And be sure to read the terms and conditions on those tickets, which now contain boilerplate language protecting teams from a COVID-19 outbreak among fans.

Multiple team sources told Yahoo sports that “podding” is gaining traction with multiple franchises aiming to safely host fans during the COVID-19 pandemic. It comes as teams have significantly beefed up protective clauses in their ticket terms during the press forward into the 2020 season.

At least three teams — the Dallas Cowboys, New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs — have begun offering or are preparing to offer ticket packages to fans that position them in “pods,” which will be a clustered form of seating purchased by fans who will be attending games together. The difference from past years: These clustered pods will be positioned to keep them safely distanced from other pods.

“Think of it like you are going out to dinner with another couple or a group of friends,” one team source told Yahoo sports. “That’s allowed in some places, so you go out together wearing your masks, and you sit together at the restaurant where you’re safely separated from other groups at other tables. That’s basically your pod. … You’ve committed to having dinner basically in your pod with the people you arrived with — people who you presumably know — and then you are kept separate from others who have their own pods. There are still some details to be worked out with concessions and other [stadium] facilities in terms of bathrooms and ingress and egress, but that’s pretty much the concept.”

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones made a reference to the podding system in comments to the media on Wednesday, essentially tipping the league’s hand on what has been a pressing question for months about how teams could safely design fan attendance.

He also referenced what many NFL teams are dealing with as they plan for fans on virtually a day-to-day basis: In essence, the best-laid plans now could be dramatically changed by local and state guidance by the time the season kicks off in September.

“As you know, you’re dealing with a little bit of a moving target, and I’m not trying to diminish the moving target aspect of it, but we’re very unique in we have the suite capacities we have out there that give us some extra control,” Jones said of AT&T Stadium. “We also have a stadium that has 3 million square feet in it. … When you look at a number [of fans] in the stadium, don’t think that number’s getting together out there — they’re not.

“It’ll be in pods of possibly five, 10, 15 different people. Our stadium is well-suited to put together numbers of people that have elected to come and want to watch the Dallas Cowboys play. I won’t speculate on a number.”

Fans are seen sporadically seated in their stadium seats prior to the start of Super Bowl LIV.Fans are seen sporadically seated in their stadium seats prior to the start of Super Bowl LIV.

NFL fans who are allowed into games this fall must agreed to a COVID-19 waiver in their ticket purchase and could be seated in “pods” that are properly distanced from other “pods.” (Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

What will podding look like?

According to the teams that spoke to Yahoo sports, the pods could range anywhere from four seats to somewhere in the teens, depending on the size of the ticket allotment purchased by groups of fans. Depending on the number of tickets purchased, NFL teams have already worked out a level of functionality that puts specific-sized groups in designated places.

One source familiar with the ticketing deck used by NFL teams said there is software that allows teams to easily break up seating sections and also provides options about how seating packages can be arranged depending on portions that you are blacking out. The source described the layout of fans as looking like “checkerboards” in the stands.

The size of the checkerboard and how the pods will be staggered is something being left up to each team — in accordance to what local and state laws will allow for assembly in stadiums. That layout could also change from one game to the next or in accordance to COVID-19 regulations that could change over time.

Two teams expressed that determining how to stage fans might be the easiest hurdle, leaving a more complicated problem of keeping fans safely distanced from each other in concourse areas, bathrooms and potential concession lines.

“There’s a lot of work that goes into preventing the traffic jams, as we call them,” one team source said. “We’ve even walked the stadium quite a bit on foot to see it with our own eyes and talk through how to attack the problem areas before they happen on a gameday. … There’s going to be a lot of manpower involved, for sure, just to keep people moving along. And I think there’s a possibility of maybe limiting movement by delivering food to people or just making concessions something we bring to the seats rather than having the fans migrating for food.”

COVID-19 clauses added to ticket sales

Teams expressed the constant reach for eliminating potential liabilities in movement — but some other mitigation will have already taken place long before any fans enter the stadiums this season. As teams have rolled out potential ticket purchases, each franchise has added boilerplate “infectious disease” or “COVID” clauses in the “terms and conditions” section.

“Have you looked at the terms and conditions on the tickets lately?” one source close to ticket sales said. “You might want to take a spin through the language. … It’s like five pages now.”

Yahoo sports reviewed the terms and conditions for team tickets across the league, and all had some version of a clause indemnifying the franchises from fan litigation involving COVID-19 infections.

From the Cowboys (capitalized text is emphasis of the team):

“HOLDER VOLUNTARILY ASSUMES ALL RISKS, HAZARDS AND DANGERS incident to the Event and related events, including the risk of personal injury (including death), the risk of exposure to communicable diseases, viruses, bacteria or illnesses or the causes thereof, sickness, or lost, stolen or damaged property, whether occurring before, during, or after the Event, however caused and whether inside or outside of the stadium, and hereby waives all claims and potential claims relating to such risks, hazards and dangers. AN INHERENT RISK OF EXPOSURE TO COVID-19 EXISTS IN ANY PUBLIC PLACE WHERE PEOPLE ARE PRESENT. COVID-19 IS AN EXTREMELY CONTAGIOUS DISEASE THAT CAN LEAD TO SEVERE ILLNESS AND DEATH. ACCORDING TO THE CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION (“CDC”), SENIOR CITIZENS AND THOSE WITH UNDERLYING MEDICAL CONDITIONS ARE ESPECIALLY VULNERABLE. BY ENTERING THE STADIUM AND STADIUM GROUNDS, HOLDER VOLUNTARILY ASSUMES ALL RISKS RELATED TO EXPOSURE TO COVID-19.”

From the Patriots (bolded and capitalized text is emphasis of the team):

“I voluntarily assume all risks, hazards and dangers, including the risk of personal injury (including death), the risk of exposure to communicable diseases, viruses, bacteria or illnesses, and the risk of lost, stolen or damaged property, incident to each event I attend at Gillette Stadium, and whether occurring before, during, or after each such event. AN INHERENT RISK OF EXPOSURE TO COVID-19 EXISTS IN ANY PUBLIC PLACE WHERE PEOPLE ARE PRESENT. COVID-19 IS AN EXTREMELY CONTAGIOUS DISEASE THAT CAN LEAD TO SEVERE ILLNESS AND DEATH. ACCORDING TO THE CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION, SENIOR CITIZENS AND THOSE WITH UNDERLYING MEDICAL CONDITIONS ARE ESPECIALLY VULNERABLE. BY ENTERING THE STADIUM AND STADIUM GROUNDS, I VOLUNTARILY ASSUME ALL RISKS RELATED TO EXPOSURE TO COVID-19.

Two team sources said such language about infectious diseases is expected to remain a staple of NFL ticket waiver language moving forward.

As one source put it, “This is the new normal in our world.”

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