The NFL has just been chock full of news this offseason, from the negotiations of the salary cap to the negotiations of the new television deals, the installation of a new 17-game season, the expansion of international games, and so on and so forth.
But the most important bit is this: at least currently, the NFL intends to have stadiums at full capacity when they return to play in September. Stadium attendance was down some 90 percent in 2020 in comparison to the year before as a consequence of the Covid-19 pandemic, which cost the league several billion in revenue and led to the salary cap shortfall they are dealing with today.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell spoke with some members of the media yesterday following the owners meetings that set in stone the expansion of the regular season, and discussed some of the other topics that were broached during those meetings.
One such topic was attendance. All 32 NFL teams combined hosted about 1.2 million fans in total last season, which is a pittance to their usual numbers. More than 16 million people attended NFL games during the 2019 season, for example, and it has typically been over 17 million historically in recent years.
Goodell told reporters that he expects all stadiums will be capable of hosting fans at full capacity later this year, emphasizing the vaccination efforts that are taking place nationwide, including more than one million doses delivered inside of NFL stadiums themselves.
It should be noted that the league beat a consistently optimistic tone last offseason for as long as they possibly could until reality slapped them in the face repeatedly. Some teams were never at any point permitted to host fans a year ago. Others had it vary throughout the year. All had attendance restrictions in terms of the amount of fans permitted based on local governmental ordinances.
Still, we haven’t even gotten to the draft yet. We are still half a year away from the start of the regular season. A lot can happen between now and then, both good and bad, I’m afraid. It’s understandable and logical that they are preparing for the prospect of full-capacity stadiums.
They also must take into account the number of fans who will remain reluctant to attend large gatherings like NFL games, though I’m sure they are aware of this. While they may be able to host a maximum number of fans, it would hardly be surprising if we see attendance down significantly due to these anxieties, particularly perhaps among those who might remain unvaccinated who otherwise would attend games.