While several teams have announced their plans to have – or not have – fans at home games this year, the Pittsburgh Steelers are waiting as long as they can to make a decision. Team President Art Rooney II is leaving the door open for fans, though the way he framed it makes it seem unlikely there’ll be anyone in the stands come the Week 2 home opener against the Denver Broncos.
“We miss fans. We haven’t given up completely on potentially having fans at some point during the season,” Rooney told Bob Pompeani during the televised portion of Saturday’s evening practice. “We continue to work with the governor’s office on that. And so we’ll see if things improve. Perhaps we’ll have some fans at some point during the season but it will be different.”
Some teams have ruled out fans entirely like the Eagles and Giants while others like the Ravens and Chiefs have announced fans at severely reduced capacity. Arrowhead Stadium for example will have only 22% of usual fans in the crowd. Rooney acknowledged home field advantage has a very different feel this time around.
“The home field advantage will be very different around the league. You know, some stadiums are going to have fans, some aren’t so it’s like everything else in this year is going to be an unusual situation that we’ll just have to adapt to.”
Western PA COVID cases have been low relative to many portions of the country with just 61 new cases in Allegheny County Saturday. But the state as a whole has been restrictive when it comes to sports and especially when it comes to fans. For example, the state recommended having no fans at any high school events this year.
The league is experimenting with crowd noise, beginning with tonight’s practice. Heinz Field is pumping in crowd noise to simulate a full crowd though hearing it through the TV, it’s definitely a weird experience.
Given that reality and Rooney’s comments, it’s unlikely there will be fans for the Steelers home opener. We already know there won’t be fans for the Week 1 game at the New York Giants. The first opportunity to have fans may be October 4th against the Tennessee Titans. The Titans announced they won’t have fans through at least September so the odds of things changing immediately after that aren’t great.
The first real chance of playing in front of a crowd may not come until Week 7, an October 25th date at Baltimore. The Ravens announced they’re limiting fans to no more than 14,000 per week. Of course, the state of the pandemic could dramatically change by then, for better or worse.