As the NFL regular season approaches, assuming the rise in COVID-19 cases doesn’t cancel it, the Raiders are having ongoing internal discussions about a number of options and approaches for a rabid season ticket base that completely sold out new Allegiant Stadium.
As the Raiders continue to sort through the situation, they have indefinitely pushed back the deadline for final payment on 2020 season tickets. Meanwhile, longtime Raiders fans like Kenny King Jr., a Northern California resident and 2020 season ticket holder, is holding out hope he will be front and center when the Raiders play their first season in Las Vegas.
“I definitely do intend to go to games this year and have already booked for the opener and Chiefs game,” said King, the son of former Raiders running back Kenny King. He plans to be in his seat at Allegiant Stadium even if it means having to sign a liability waiver that will shield teams from any COVID-19 lawsuits, a possibility reportedly being discussed by the NFL.
“I’d definitely sign a waiver,” King said. “I think if you take the proper precautions, you’re pretty safe. At this point, I’d like some normalcy in my life and sports provide that.”
Opting out option
In Los Angeles, which is also scheduled to open a new stadium to serve as the home of the Rams and Chargers, Tom Bateman, the Orange County-based president of the Bring Back the Rams movement, said his decision to opt out of his season tickets for 2020 was based partly on health considerations but also on his reluctance to break in SoFi Stadium under the almost inevitable social distancing regulations that will be in place.
“I’m disappointed as a fan that COVID-19 is robbing us of this experience, but health has to come first,” Bateman said. “I feel most bad for all those who worked so hard all these years to build SoFi Stadium. It deserves a first-class launch with all the bells and whistles.
“Since it’s virtually certain that crowds will be significantly reduced … I don’t think the at-game experience will be the same at any NFL game,” Bateman said. “I decided to opt out and wait to get that full experience … and enjoy it with the 60,000, 70,000 other fans next season rather than a half-empty stadium this season.”
The Rams, like many other teams across the league, have given their season ticket holders the option of opting out of their seats this year without risk of losing them moving forward.
Bateman’s decision is one that hundreds of thousands of fans are facing as the NFL rolls toward the opening of the most unusual and uncertain season of all time.
It’s no less complicated for the teams themselves as they balance hope and optimism with the hard truth that six months into the COVID-19 crisis, the nation seems no closer to getting a handle on the virus.
“If you would have told me five months ago we’d be sitting here three weeks before training camp in this predicament, I would have told you you were crazy,” said a high-ranking team official who would only comment if not identified by name. “I would have almost guaranteed we’d be much further along and in a much better position to pull off a season as close to normal as possible. Fans included. And yet here we are.”
As it stands, fan participation beyond a vacated social distancing area consisting of the first eight rows of all stadiums will be predicated on the regulations and stipulations of the states where all 32 teams reside. In Nevada and California, NFL teams have the go-ahead to play but are not allowed to have fans in attendance, pending a steady decline in COVID-19 cases and a relaxing of statewide social distancing guidelines.
“But of course, that could change in two weeks, or a month, or two months,” said a high-ranking NFL official.
In other words, while fans might not be able to attend games in September in some cities, they could be allowed in if the COVID-19 situation improves in October or November. The result is an ever-changing landscape in which teams and fans want to maintain the necessary flexibility to adapt.
But with no leaguewide edict on a uniform approach for fan participation, it’s left to all 32 teams to formulate individual plans. Among the various scenarios — and resulting plans — teams are dealing with are these:
■ If the state the team plays in allows full capacity beyond the eight-row buffer zone, non-sold-out clubs will offer fans displaced by the buffer zone full refunds or seats in other parts of the building at a discounted price. Sold-out clubs will provide full refunds to all affected fans.
■ Depending on how many fans any particular state allows — and taking into account whatever social distance seating requirement is mandated — teams will have to create a system to determine who among their season ticket base gets to go to attend which games. One idea is breaking up the schedule to create four-game season-ticket packages in which all fans will be guaranteed to go to at least one or two of the most attractive games on the schedule.
■ No one gets to attend any games, and everyone is refunded.
Two months before the season opener, with very few answers in place, uncertainty reigns.