INDIANAPOLIS – Limited capacity seating – very limited – will welcome the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium when they open the home portion of their season against the Minnesota Vikings Sept. 20.
The team announced Friday it will allow a maximum of 2,500 fans at the stadium following discussions with Marion County Public Health Department officials and in keeping within local CDC guidelines from the COVID-19 pandemic.
A process for determining distribution of the available tickets will be announced next week.
The team and local officials have had on-going conversations regarding how to balance allowing some level of fans at Lucas Oil Stadium while also recognizing the COVID-19 concerns and following state and local health guidelines.
Initially, the Colts hoped for 25% capacity at the 63,000-seat Lucas Oil Stadium. More recently, the possible level dropped to 15%.
A crowd of 2,500 represents roughly 5% of the stadium’s capacity.
That level, according to Pete Ward, the team’s chief operation officer, is what the Department of Health deemed safe at this time.
“We knew from the start this would be a fluid situation,’’ he said. “It’s uncharted territory and we’re prepared to adjust on the fly just like the restaurants, stores and other businesses.
“We remain optimistic that circumstances will improve as the season progresses.’’
The decision to limit attendance to a maximum of 2,500 comes after the Aug. 23 Indianapolis 500 was run in front of empty stands. Roger Penske had hoped to have 25% capacity at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but IMS announced Aug. 4 there would be no fans “following careful consideration and extensive consultation with state and city leadership.’’
Oddly, the Indy Eleven, the city’s entry in the United Soccer League, has played five matches this summer at Lucas Oil with larger crowds than what the Colts will allow. The Indy Eleven’s website lists the attendance for each match at approximately 5,000.
As it stands, the Colts are one of five teams that will allow some level of attendance at the start of the season. That includes their opening opponent. When the Colts travel to Jacksonville Sept. 13, the Jaguars will allow 25% capacity at TIAA Bank Field, or roughly 16,000 fans.
- Dallas, which hopes to have up to 50% capacity at the 80,000 AT&T Stadium.
- Kansas City, with 22% capacity at 76,400-seat Arrowhead Stadium. The Super Bowl champion Chiefs open the NFL’s season Thursday night against the Houston Texans.
- Miami, which is planning on a maximum of 13,000 fans at its 64,767-seat Hard Rock Stadium.
The Cleveland Browns proposed a 20% capacity at their 67,432-seat FirstEnergy Stadium. It must be approved by Ohio governor Mike DeWine and his COVID-19 officials.
The Las Vegas Raiders and Washington have ruled out fans for the entire season. Every other team won’t allow fans at the start of the season, but might change plans as the season unfolds and the health concerns lessen.
The patchwork approach to fans in stadiums goes against one of the NFL’s bedrock philosophies: competitive balance.
Hypothetically, the Dallas Cowboys will travel to Washington Oct. 25 and play in an empty FedEx Field. The Nov. 26 rematch at AT&T Stadium might include 40,000 Cowboy fans.
Frank Reich has taken into account whether there will be fans in the stands, or empty seats, but hasn’t been preoccupied with the issue.
“My mindset is always a positive mindset,’’ he said during training camp. “I see everything as a competitive advantage for us. It’s just a matter of perspective.
“I’m going to find a way to look at it where it’s a positive for us. I’m not worried about no fans versus 25% fans somewhere else. We’ve talked about those things and thought about it, but not worried about it.’’
To compensate for no fans in stadiums, the NFL is allowing teams to pump in noise at a 70-decibel level.
It’s uncertain how – or if – the league will account for a team like the Colts having 2,500 fans in the stands or the Jaguars perhaps having 16,000.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.