The Denver Broncos will admit a limited number of fans on Sept. 27 when they host Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said Tuesday.
Polis credited efforts by the Broncos as well as by Colorado residents and businesses to slow the state’s infection rate in allowing 5,700 fans to attend the team’s second home game, which features Brady’s first appearance in Denver since leaving the New England Patriots.
The Broncos won’t have any fans at their Monday night season opener against the Tennessee Titans. Their third home game is Oct. 18 against the Miami Dolphins.
“Colorado is very much ’Orange Nation,” Polis said, adding of the virus: “We cannot let it defeat our spirits, and Broncos games are part of that spirit.”
The state worked with Brittany Bowlen, the Broncos’ vice president of strategic initiatives and chair of the team’s COVID-19 task force, to develop the game plan. Bowlen had submitted a comprehensive coronavirus safety plan for Empower Field at Mile High to state health officials.
“Fans are a big part of our team. They bring our stadium to life,” Bowlen said, noting the plan will be evaluated afterward for increasing attendance.
Only five of the NFL’s 32 teams are allowing fans at their openers, including the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, who will have 16,000 spectators when they kick off the season Thursday hosting the Houston Texans.
State health orders limit individual outdoor gatherings to 175 people practicing safe social distancing with prior approval from health officials. The Broncos’ plan for the Bucs game calls in part for small groups seated in different sections of the stadium; mask wearing and other protocols; and cashless concessions. Season ticket holders will be entered into a lottery for tickets and parking passes.
Keeping fan groups small will make it easier for health workers to address and trace any outbreaks, Polis said.
To prepare for their opener, the Broncos held two stadium practices to get used to a fan-less environment.
On Monday night, crowd noise up to 70 decibels will be piped into the 76,000-plus-seat stadium that has been sold out for every Broncos game since 1970. Broadcasters will use sound curated by NFL Films on their telecasts with an audio operator running a sound board that can make the noise louder depending on game situations.
Polis said the Broncos’ experiment will help other Colorado teams dealing with the pandemic, from the MLB’s Colorado Rockies to high school football teams.
“We’re here for you as a state, whether we’re cheering for you in front of our televisions with nachos or are in the stadium,” the governor told Bowlen.
— AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton contributed to this report.