A historically small, spaced-out Super Bowl crowd is set to nestle in with a sea of cardboard cutouts at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., on Sunday night as the pandemic leaves its mark on the NFL’s premier event.
Some 22,000 fans will join a small army of players, staff, employees and other personnel to bring the total attendance to 25,000, according to the league.
The NFL said 7,500 vaccinated health-care workers received free tickets to the battle between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Kansas City Chiefs.
Brian McCarthy, a league spokesperson, tweeted images on Tuesday showing protective equipment kits prepared for ticket-holders. He said attendees will be required to strap masks on their faces for the duration of the event.
Raymond James Stadium, a 22-year-old open-air facility long considered one of the jewels of the NFL, has an official capacity of 65,000. But that figure can grow for major events.
As host of Super Bowl XXXV in 2001 and Super Bowl XLIII in 2009, the stadium filled to announced crowds of 71,921 and 70,774.
NFL teams, facing differing local local regulations, varied in how they tackled the question of attendance during this year’s coronavirus-marred season. Some teams barred fans; others partially filled the venues.
The Buccaneers logged an average crowd 14,483 during the season. Thirteen teams played to empty stadiums.
The previous record for smallest announced Super Bowl attendance was the crowd for Super Bowl I in 1967: 61,946.
The crowd restrictions could largely rob the Buccaneers of the home-field boost they might have gained from playing at Raymond James Stadium. The team is the first in NFL history to play a Super Bowl at its own stadium.
On Sunday, McCarthy tweeted an image the stands in the stadium’s north end zone, where a 78-foot-tall pirate ship towers over the seats. The cardboard fans had already found their way to their seats.