There might be NFL football, but there will be no fans at Ford Field for Lions games — at least for the time being.
The Lions announced Friday that they will play games with no fans for at least the first two home games of the season, against the Chicago Bears on Sept. 13 and New Orleans Saints on Oct. 4.
The announcement comes in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, as NFL teams are deciding whether to play in front of reduced crowds and other sports are playing games with no fans at all in the stands.
Ford Field potentially could have fans beginning with the third home game, on Nov. 1 against the Indianapolis Colts.
“Whether fans can attend that or any other 2020 season games will continue to be evaluated while working diligently with healthcare officials at every level, as well as Governor Whitmer’s office,” the team said in its announcement.
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The NBA and NHL have resumed their seasons on restricted bubble campuses, while Major League Baseball has had no fans, not in bubbles and played in their home ballparks. The NFL isn’t planning on a strict bubble either, which carries its own risks.
Some of those leagues have tried to broadcast artificial crowd noise or use live video of fans in their homes, to varying degrees of success. Maybe more than any of the other sports, football players seem to thrive on the energy from the crowd.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford said having that crowd noise isn’t a big deal either way, especially considering the bigger issue of the pandemic.
“I think this year is just going to be, ‘Show up and play.’ We don’t know if anybody is going to be in the stands, if they’re going to be pumping crowd noise in, or how that’s going to go,” Stafford said Friday via teleconference. “I can’t worry about all that kind of stuff. It’s for sure going to be different than I’m used to, hearing Ford Field going crazy, especially for a home opener. That will be different.
“But so is everything since 2020 hit, so it might as well be different and just go on with it and play ball.”
The Lions also announced that all team-owned venues and parking lots will be closed, so tailgating will not be allowed in those areas.
“We have spent considerable time and resources implementing new gameday protocols at Ford Field and are ready to host fans at Lions games once approved by state guidelines,” Lions president Rod Wood said in a team statement. “The health and safety of our players, coaches and staff, has been a focal point for all facets of 2020 season planning as demonstrated by being one of the first teams to gain approval from the NFL and NFLPA for meeting training camp COVID-19 requirements. We have the utmost confidence that we can provide a safe and enjoyable experience for fans at our stadium.
“Lions fans have traditionally created an intimidating environment for visiting teams at Ford Field and, even in a reduced capacity, will be missed when we kick off the season against our division rival, the Chicago Bears. We are hopeful for an opportunity to host fans at the remaining six 2020 home games.”