We saw a resumption of the USL Championship 2020 season over the weekend, as a new schedule and revised operating procedures brought the game back to fans.
A crowd of nearly 5,000–capacity in this COVID-19 times–was on hand to see Louisville City FC open Lynn Family Stadium against visiting Pittsburgh. Fans have been waiting years to see this $65-million facility open, and they were not deterred by the social-distancing protocols implemented by the team:
“We’ve watched their front office for a long time and they are very conscientious,” she said, the purple streamers in her hair blowing with the wind. “I have every confidence that they’ve taken every measure possible or I wouldn’t be here.”
Announced attendance was a socially distanced 4,850, with tape pulled across seats that were unavailable and floor markers in lines every 6 feet to indicate proper distance between household units.
Hand sanitizer was for sale for $3.95 and available for free at 40 dispensers throughout the stadium, though several facility officials questioned how often they had been used by fans (at around 4:30 p.m., one worker said, the dispenser he had been watching had been used twice, and one of those times was by a stadium employee).
A similar crowd was on hand for the Indy Eleven relaunch at Lucas Oil Stadium, where social distancing was the norm:
The announced attendance at Saturday’s contest was 4,761, although that likely included several season ticketholder no shows. The actual number of spectators appeared significantly less.
Eleven CEO Greg Stremlaw addressed the topic of fan safety with IndyStar earlier this week.
“Health and safety is our foremost priority,” he said. “In turn, we passionately believe that Lucas Oil Stadium will literally be the safest venue in the country this weekend. If you have been going to your local grocery store, your local hardware store, your local farmers market — you should feel and will be much, much safer at our game this Saturday. We are one of the first sport organizations in the country to post our venue health and safety plan for all fans to see, in a fully transparent manner.”
In St. Petersburg, the Tampa Bay Rowdies hosted a crowd of 140 or so for a match against Atlanta United 2. It was billed as an invitation-only event:
A high-end restaurant might call this a soft opening. A stadium that holds roughly 7,200 fans that was limited to 140 invitation-only spectators on opening night.
The safety protocols for the United Soccer League Championship match were extensive but not stifling for the fans allowed in. And the sense that this was a test case for more ambitious nights farther down the road was obvious.
“We’re the first team in the state of Florida that has anybody inside their own stadium,” Rowdies president Lee Cohen said. “The guys view this as a chance to write history for a lower-division soccer team in this country. This is a chance to showcase something and be a part of something larger.”
There are still some kinks to work out for the season. New Mexico United had already decided to move home matches from Isotopes Park to UNM Soccer Complex, but the team is waiting for approval from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to proceed. Spectators have already been ruled out; the issue is whether matches proceed at all.
Opening weekend continues tonight.
(For those who have written in to ask whether we will be tracking 2020 attendance, the answer is no: USL Championship is not posting official figures.)
Photo courtesy USL Championship.
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