The Green Bay Packers will play without fans in the stands at Lambeau Field for the first two home games of the 2020 season due to coronavirus concerns.

Green Bay Press-Gazette

GREEN BAY, Wis. — The Green Bay Packers said Thursday no fans will be present for the team’s first two home games this season because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Packers said the first time fans might be allowed is Nov. 1 when Green Bay hosts the Minnesota Vikings. The Packers are scheduled to host the Detroit Lions on Sept. 20 and Atlanta Falcons on Oct. 5. 

The NFL has established game protocols to defend against COVID-19 infection, including distancing in locker rooms, eliminating jersey exchanges, keeping teams apart, mask-wearing for game-day workers in the stadium, no locker room access for reporters and a limited number of sideline photographers.

“Given the extraordinary circumstances this year and the additional protocols in place … we determined it was best to take incremental steps to start the regular season,” Packers President and CEO Mark Murphy said in written statement.

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When the preseason was reduced to one home game, the Packers said they would play without fans to give themselves an opportunity to focus on holding a safe game for players and game personnel. That is part of their rationale for playing without fans for the first two regular-season games, now that preseason games were previously eliminated.

“Conducting the first two regular-season games with only the essential participants will allow the organization to place its full focus on the game itself,” the team said in a news release. 

The Packers said earlier that no more than 12,000 fans would be allowed at games this season. The team allowed season ticket holders to opt out of the season without losing control of their seats for next season. Those who opted in would be allowed to try to buy tickets on a single-game basis. All season ticket holders would receive refunds or have the option of having their payments carried over to next year.

The deadline for opt outs was July 31. The Packers said more than half of season ticket holders opted out. 

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Other professional sports have resumed their seasons with mixed results. The NBA sequestered all of its players in Orlando, Florida, where it is playing all its games. It has had few instances of infected players. Major League Soccer also played its tournament at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.

Major League Baseball launched a shortened season, hoping that players will be cautious. Three teams, the Miami Marlins, Philadelphia Phillies and St. Louis Cardinals, reported cases on COVID-19 infection and had to cancel or postpone games.

Packers home games provide an estimated $15 million economic impact to the Green Bay area economy. All told, the Packers provide more than $170 million in annual economic impact in the NFL’s smallest market.

The tourism and hospitality industries are hardest hit by the pandemic, even beyond the lack of football fans.

“This has been a very, very difficult year for the hoteliers and not just for the Packers games,” said Jason Hager, vice president of Tundra Lodge Resort & Conference Center. Hager also is chairman of both the Brown County Room Tax Commission and the Greater Green Bay Lodging Association.

“We are down 50-60% month over month. People just aren’t traveling. The corporations aren’t traveling,” Hager said. “We are working every angle and every opportunity we can.”

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