DENVER — A limited number of fans will cheer on the Broncos when they host Tampa Bay and quarterback Tom Brady on Sept. 27.
Gov. Jared Polis announced Tuesday that the Broncos are permitting a limited capacity of 5,700 fans following discussions with the health department and in adhering to local guidelines from the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of the fans allowed at the game will be season ticketholders, officials said, with some half-price seats available.
Seating will be organized in "pods," or small groups, of 1-6 tickets across the stadium, said Brittany Bowlen, the Broncos vice president of strategic initiatives. Sections will be separated into smaller groups with designated entrypoints to the stadium, concessions and restroom areas to limit exposure between fans. Masks will be required for all fans.
Empower Field at Mile High seats 76,125, meaning 5,700 fans represents just under 7.5% of capacity. The safety of fans is top priority, leading to the small number approved. The Broncos sought a three-week ramp up period to prepare, helping explain the timing of Tuesday’s decision.
"We are not back to normal," Bowlen said. "Empower Field will look and feel different."
Polis said the Broncos' plan would follow state guidance of not allowing groups of more than 175 people to gather, including isolating those groups across the stadium in both seating areas and concessions and restrooms.
"This is an important process to move forward on," Polis said, and the state plans to work with the team to possibly allow for more fans in the stadium later in the season.
The Broncos have been working in cooperation with the governor’s office for months. They submitted a 32-page proposal that was approved to open training camp, and Bowlen followed suit with a detailed plan to bring some fans back for a team that has sold out every game since Week 1 of the 1970 season.
Bowlen attended Polis' press conference on Tuesday. The Broncos will determine which fans have the opportunity to attend among the club’s season-ticket holders, and half-price tickets will be offered as well.
Season ticket holders will have access to seats and parking passes, which go on sale within the next week, according to the team. All season ticket holders will be entered into a lottery for the chance to buy tickets, weighted by their priority number. Sale and lottery information will be shared with season ticket holders via email.
Fans will be required to attend games with known family or friends.
Go here for the team's full list of ticketing information, safety protocols and other information for attending the Sept. 27 game.
Even with fans in attendance, teams will be permitted to run pre-recorded crowd noise made available by the NFL, and the Broncos plan to do so. The noise plays on a continuous loop through the PA systems at 70 decibels, starting at kickoff. Those attempting to manipulate the audio volume, higher or lower, are subject to penalties, including loss of draft picks.
The Broncos practiced twice at Empower Field with fake crowd noise during training camp.
“The one thing that I came out of those practice(s) with is we’re in a big-league stadium. The crowd noise kind of simulated noise that you get in a game,” coach Vic Fangio said.
Fangio explained last month the importance of having fans in attendance, if allowed.
“The fans are a very important part of pro sports,” Fangio said. “We all knew that. I knew that, but to me it’s very obvious when you watch sporting event without the fans you miss them not just because of the support, but they’re part of the action.”
Quarterback Drew Lock called practicing in a empty stadium “weird.” The team has adjusted, but it is a rather sterile environment.
“It sounds like there’s fans here. Then you look up and there’s no one behind any one on the sideline. It was weird. It does add a little bit there. It’s definitely a little different,” Lock said. “We’d rather have real fans obviously.”
The Broncos will continue displaying as many as 2,000 cardboard cutouts at games well, possibly using them as barriers for social distancing as fans return. Last week, the Broncos offered fans an opportunity to purchase cutouts for $100, with the proceeds going to charity.
The cutouts will be placed strategically in the stands behind the end zones. Between the 30-yard lines, cutouts of frontline workers will be featured. There will also be cutouts of the team's Hall of Famers, Ring of Famers, cheerleaders and Miles the Mascot.
For weeks, the Broncos have been preparing the stadium to welcome back fans. The concourses feature signs, reminding fans to "Do Your Part" because "Two Yards Change The Game" in social distancing and to wash hands with soap and water. The bathrooms are marked off for social distancing and hand sanitizers stations are placed throughout the stadium.