After an unfortunate 2020 NFL season in which fans were largely unable to attend games due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the league is now looking to ditch the cardboard cutouts they used to fill their empty stadiums for full fan capacity in the coming season.
“All of us in the NFL want to see every one of our fans back,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said, according to NBC’s ProFootballTalk. “Football is simply not the same without the fans, and we expect to have full stadiums in the 2021 season.”
Throughout the 2020 NFL season, fans were only able to go to games in states with COVID-19 restrictions that permitted attendance, and in those states, only a limited capacity of fans were allowed to attend. The few fans who were lucky enough to attend these games were required to wear masks and socially distance, as they were often surrounded by cardboard cutouts to optically fill the stadium.
In total, only 1.2 million fans were able to attend games last season - an accomplishment in and of itself, but an absurdly sharp decline from the 16 million who attended in 2019.
Goodell says today's virtual league meeting included discussions about welcoming back fans at every stadium. They had 1.2 million fans - safely, he notes -- in 2020. Now, in 2021, the plan is all stadiums full. A strikingly optimistic tone five months away from kickoff.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) March 30, 2021
In November, Yahoo! Sports asked Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, whether or not he believes the NFL can return to full capacity stadiums come the 2021 season.
“Oh, that's possible. I think that's possible,” Fauci responded.
While Commissioner Goodell’s comments do not confirm anything regarding the 2021 season, his optimistic outlook in combination with the millions of vaccines being distributed throughout the U.S. everyday means that fans can start getting excited for a possible in-person return to America’s favorite sport.