This article has been updated with details on the Saints months-long, behind the scenes battle. Scroll down to see updates after the initial news coverage.
The New Orleans Saints can never just quietly enjoy a bye week; for once, their downtime activities pay off for both the team and fans. The Saints announced Tuesday that, as part of a phased, deliberate pilot approach, 3,000 fans will be allowed to attend this weekend’s matchup against the Carolina Panthers in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
There will be 3,000 tickets distributed for this weekend's Saints' game against the Panthers, the Saints have announced.— Amie Just (@Amie_Just) October 20, 2020
If no issues, capacity will increase to 6,000 fans for the San Francisco and Atlanta games, then to 15,000 for the Kansas City and Minnesota games.
Importantly, these 3,000 tickets will be distributed to season ticket holders for this weekend’s matchup. However, that number serves to increase if local health & safety guidelines regarding crowd size remain along the current trend. In partnership with Mayor LaToya Cantrell, the Saints released plans for a season-long, deliberate, phased pilot approach to increasing fan capacity.
The outlined phased approach (barring any changes in current local trends) is as follows: 6,000 fans for the Nov. 15 San Francisco 49ers and Nov. 22 Atlanta Falcons games, 15,000 fans for the Dec. 20 Kansas City Chiefs and Dec. 25 Minnesota Vikings games. New Orleans further notes that a limited number of tickets to, “satisfy player, team and other required NFL obligations was additionally approved for the remaining games,” which likely includes families and whomever ‘other required NFL obligations’ refers to. At the least, 3,000 fans are better for third down defense than our secondary has been all season. The full statement issued by Saints Senior VP of Communications, Greg Bensel, can be found below:
This update comes in stark contrast to the preceding battle of the Saints vs. Mayor Cantrell. Fans saw the somewhat messy, public battle New Orleans engaged with against the City to allow fan attendance; it eventually escalated to a point where the Saints tried to move home games to LSU’s Tiger Stadium. However, public records obtained by NOLA.com show that this behind-the-scenes conflict has been transpiring since August – this most recent push was simply the first we were made aware of it.
Prior to the season, New Orleans proposed an ambitious plan to Gov. John Bell Edwards in August that requested 35% capacity – this amounts to nearly 24,000 fans. Per usual, Sean Payton tried to rewrite the rulebook by pitching a detailed “seating manifest methodology” endorsed by Ochsner Health System officials that illustrated how to space 23,875 people through various angles. Seriously, every angle. In short, they outlined the in row-horizontal spacing between seats in the 200 level (at most 5.75 ft apart), the 600 level (5.2 ft), and the respective vertical spacing in their initial proposal.
Edwards purportedly agreed to a plan on Sept. 1; details weren’t disclosed at the time, but the plan was to allow 25% capacity in light of Edward’s eventual Phase 3 announcement for the city. Under the 35% plan, there were three areas of the stadium that required budgeting for more than 50% of normal occupancy – the two ADA sections (50%), and the suites (100%). The suite seating would remain unchanged in capacity; the proposed changes required the installation of plexiglass between suites, removing eight chairs per suite, and spacing barstools to replace the lost chairs.
The seating configurations throughout the stadium accounted for varied group sizes to sit together while maintaining at least 5.2 ft distance, as was disclosed to season-ticket holders at the time. These obtained documents illuminate the Saints strong desire – and meticulous push – for fan attendance; the recent team battle with Mayor Cantrell revealed a stark contrast between the two sides in a months-long point of impasse. Several contingency plans detailed in the NOLA.com article were proposed leading up to the season opener, but as we all know, none came to fruition.
Cantrell’s reluctance to allow fans in the Superdome went past safety concerns – it mainly came down to funding deficits due to the loss of New Orlean’s tourism sector from the pandemic. Eventually, in abandonment of their repeatedly shot-down proposals, the Saints tried moving to Baton Rouge to play at LSU’s Tiger Stadium as a last resort. LSU had been cleared to host fans at 25% capacity two days prior to the Phase 3 announcement. However, despite talks with the university, logistical difficulties with the Tigers hosting South Carolina the Saturday night prior made this short-notice push insurmountable.
Luckily for NOLA natives, it appears this meticulous Superdome plan will rectify future reservation requests to Tiger Stadium. This plan should allow for season-long attendance, but it requires just as much compliance from the fans as the NFL – though it remains unclear which 3,000 season-ticket holders are to receive these seats and subsequent warning.
Per #Saints ticket representative regarding how the 3k tickets will be distributed:— Christopher Dunnells (@ChrisDunnells) October 20, 2020
“They have not shared with us how they are allocating the tickets to season ticket holders.”
“The Saints and Mayor Cantrell’s office encourage all of our fans to wear your mask while in public, practicing good hygiene and maintaining social distance,” Bensel urged in the team’s statement. “It is imperative as noted that everyone do their part to make sure all of the progress made by our community in our fight against Covid-19 is not lost and we have no setbacks, this plan is based on creating a healthy and safe environment for our fans to arrive, enjoy and depart Saints home games safely.”
Cantrell issued the following statement on Tuesday evening regarding the agreement:
“I am allowing the Saints to move forward with this pilot exercise, allowing for limited seating in the Dome this Sunday, as part of a phased, incremental approach that is consistent with the City’s Phase 3 re-opening,” said Mayor LaToya Cantrell. “The way forward towards additional expansion depends on the current trends remaining stable. An outbreak or a sudden increase in community spread would be reason to pause. I am glad to begin welcoming Saints fans back into the Dome, and hopeful that we can continue on a deliberate, gradual path forward.”
There will be mandatory masks, plexiglass galore, social distancing, and no parking lot tailgating, but there will be genuine crowd noise cheering the Saints on against a division rival. Please don’t be the reason that we can’t have nice things the remainder of the season, and wear your masks.
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