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County Executive: We won’t know about Buffalo Bills’ fan attendance until August

Lots still up in the air right now.

The NFL released the Buffalo Bills’ schedule along with the rest of the league events last week. It was the last event on the NFL calendar that can happen remotely. As the country and the league look ahead to returning to in-person events in the wake of the coronavirus, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz is skeptical fans will be able to congregate as they normally would in Orchard Park before, during, and after a Bills’ home game.

“Just because they announced the season schedule doesn’t mean there actually will be fans in those stands. I don’t know,” said Poloncarz. “And there could be a limit on fans by a percentage of individuals. Even if you did it at 25% of the fans, that’s still roughly 20,000 people, and then you include the other folks that need to be in the stadium for a football game. This is all new, we don’t know, and I don’t think we’re going to know until probably August.”

The Bills, no doubt, are planning for multiple contingencies at this time in the hopes they can let some fans in the stadium in the fall. The Miami Dolphins announced some of their new procedures to respond to COVID-19 and they make sense. They include check-in times at the entrance gates, ordering your concessions via a phone app for pick up, and reducing the number of fans in the building.

The logistics of this type of restriction are unprecedented. The NFL will have some benefit of hindsight, as Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association are expected to return to games sooner.

In late April, Buffalo Bills owner Kim Pegula was named to New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo’s advisory board for reopening the state. She joins decision-makers from all the major pro sports teams in New York State as they make plans for scaling up from the stay home orders to small gatherings to larger events. The move has as much to do with seeking council from the 100+ advisors as it does with making sure they stay on the same page as state officials. To that end, Poloncarz noted that the Bills weren’t just going to go against recommendations.

“The Bills are very concerned. They’re exceptionally concerned about this,” Poloncarz said. “Their statement to myself, as well as their statement to other members of our staff is that they’re going to follow the guide from the state and local resources. They’re not just going to do it on their own. And we’re never going to put the public in a situation where they’re at risk.”

Poloncarz went on again to explain that the likelihood of a full stadium is remote. Despite two prime-time games on the schedule, the feeling at the stadium is going to be much different in 2020. Time will tell exactly how different.

“I would highly doubt that we’re going to see a packed house at the stadium this year,” said Poloncarz. “If any fans are allowed, I imagine it’s going to be at a percentage of the overall capacity. But if people are expecting there to be football games with 72,000 screaming fans in the crowd, it’s probably not going to happen.”