Falcons preparing for limited fan capacity at home games during pandemic

Officials for AMB Sports and Entertainment, which oversees operations of the 71,000-seat Mercedes-Benz Stadium, are preparing to host between 10,000-20,000 fans at Atlanta Falcons home games as the entire league adjusts to limited capacities during the coronavirus pandemic.

“We continue to kind of drill down that number with each week that goes by," Don Rovak, vice president of sales and service for AMB, told ESPN regarding the crowd estimate. “That’s taking into account just all of the league recommendations and [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidance. Everything is, No. 1, about player safety, fan safety and staff safety."

All fans allowed into any NFL venue this season will be required to wear masks -- as previously mandated by the league -- and Rovak said measures will be taken to ensure social distancing inside the Falcons' $1.5 billion home.

Seating will be adjusted within the distancing guidelines of 6 feet, meaning about three seats of space between spectators in the regular seating area and two seats of space in the club levels that consist of larger seats. Fans will not have anyone sitting directly behind them as a result of the setup. Also, envision some of the back rows being unavailable because they are positioned close to the concourse. Spectators will have at least one empty row between them throughout the stadium.

“The end zone suites are going to be off-limits," Rovak said. “The first 7 to 12 rows along the sidelines are going to be off-limits to provide safety for the players.

“We took the other seats and looked at how many season-ticket members currently have season-ticket accounts of one, two, three, four, five, and six and from there, started creating these pods throughout the stadium; worked with Ticketmaster to get an original drawing. We have a seat that is blocked along each aisle so you don’t have to worry about sitting next to an aisle where countless people are walking by you. But we do have these pods spread out in the 100, 200, and 300 levels throughout the entire venue."

Rovak was asked about the possibility of having no fans in the stadium after New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced no fans “until further notice’’ at MetLife Stadium, where the New York Giants and New York Jets play their home games. Some might consider the Giants-Jets situation unfair if other teams are allowed to create at least some sort of a home-field advantage by allowing fans.

"If I’ve learned one thing in the last five months it’s to not say, ‘That’s not going to be us,'" Rovak said. “What we need to do is continue to plan, continue to learn, and continue to lean on our safety experts more than anything else.

“Does [no fans at MetLife] concern me? From a league point of view, obviously it was something that I read. At the same time, I’m not going to take the planning and decide to throw it away. ... Could we get different guidance at some other time? Absolutely. That’s just not the guidance that we’re receiving right now."

The Falcons previously announced a plan to address personal seat license owners and season-ticket holders' concerns about the 2020 season and allowing them to defer payments for next season as a result of how the pandemic has affected the economy. Rovak said 181 season-ticket holders -- a relatively low number -- have informed officials they have no interest in attending games this season, and those season-ticket locations will be protected for the 2021 season.

For those PSL/season-ticket holders who plan to attend games this season, a survey is being distributed where those fans can rank their preference among the first four home games scheduled: Seattle (Sept. 13), Chicago (Sept. 27), Carolina (Oct. 11), and Detroit (Oct. 25). Based on that survey, officials will hold the aforementioned drawing to determine which games those fans get to attend. The team could have to accommodate close to 55,000 combined PSL owners and season-ticket holders.

“We’re expecting, out of these first four games, to be able to accommodate all of our members with at least one game and possibly two," Rovak said. “That’s what we’re estimating right now. Obviously, a lot of that can change based on how many people want to come to games.

“If I want to go see the Lions, and you want to go to see the Panthers, I’m more likely to go to the Lions, and you’re more likely to go to the Panthers. All of our PSL owners have signed the same agreement. It is not seniority based. It will be randomized based on each category. If I’m in the club and I rank Bears at No. 1, and you’re in the club and you rank Bears No. 1, it’s a random system that is making that selection."

That system will be reevaluated Oct. 1 in preparation for the final four home games: Denver (Nov. 8), Las Vegas (Nov. 29), New Orleans (Dec. 6), and Tampa Bay (Jan. 3). Since there is a chance some PSL owners/season-ticket holders will get a maximum of just four games, the money they already paid for the full slate of games can go toward credit for next season.

There will be individual game tickets available through Ticketmaster ticket exchange, meaning fans who anticipated attending all the home games still would have a chance to do so. Different than a typical year, PSL owners will have to sell their seats in one group. For example, if a family has four seats and wants to sell them for the season opener, those seats can’t be sold in groups of two because that would put two strangers next two PSL owners during a time where health concerns are at an all-time high.

Although Rovak said preparation continues to host a preseason game, players were informed during a Tuesday evening conference call that the NFLPA and the league had agreed to have no preseason games.

Fan will not be allowed to attend the Falcons’ training camp, which is scheduled to take place at the team’s home facility in Flowery Branch, Georgia. The Falcons are expected to conduct some part of training camp at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. All players are scheduled to report for camp next Tuesday, with rookies already reporting this week to begin testing for COVID-19. All players will have to have two negative tests before being allowed into the facility.

The averaged paid attendance for the Falcons’ eight home games last season was 71,601.