Gillette Stadium announced in a statement released Tuesday afternoon that no fans will be permitted at their events through September in a statement released Tuesday afternoon. The decision affects the Patriots and Revolution, who have a combined five games in Foxboro in the month of September. The Patriots open their season at Gillette against the Miami Dolphins on September 13th. Their second home game will take place on September 27th against the Oakland Raiders. The decision was made in agreement with the Massachusetts Reopening Advisory Board. Gillette Stadium officials have also been working with local, state, and NFL officials on the best approach to attendance this season. "Gillette Stadium fully supports the state's position and this decision is in the interest of public safety,"
In July, Gillette announced they’d permit 20 percent capacity, but the news should not surprise Patriots’ fans. Although COVID cases have dropped in Massachusetts, filing for the stadium at even 20 percent puts the community and teams at risk. Fan attendance also opens up the possibility of fans from outside the region traveling to New England to attend games. These fans could be traveling from areas that still have high case numbers and a lack of public mandates, risking further outbreaks.
The NFL has allowed each team to make their own decisions on attendance based on their state’s mandate. While they should take the initiative by mandating no fans across the league, the virus is still a major threat. There are states that are unwilling to enact these types of restrictions. Teams are hoping to sell as many tickets as possible to limit financial losses.
The NFL should view MLB's season as a case study on how to best approach the season. The league has struggled to prevent outbreaks without any fans in attendance. Players have broken protocol to attend social gatherings, allegedly leading to COVID outbreaks among teams. These events have forced the MLB to cancel games. The NFL cannot afford to cancel games to keep their season structure in place. Any outbreak as a result of fan attendance could shut down stadiums for at least two weeks. It can also risk a spread to the players and staff.
Gillette noted they hope to have fans back home at some point during the season. They will rely on the Massachusetts Reopening Advisory Board and their own independent consultants. I expect the groups to reevaluate each month if filling the stadium in any capacity is realistic. Their plans will also have to coincide with the state’s phased reopening.