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Buffalo Bills to Allow Fans in Limited Capacity: Implications for Businesses Reopening In NY

On Dec. 30, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the Buffalo Bills would allow a limited number of fans into Bills Stadium for their first playoff game next weekend. 

The Details for Buffalo Bills Playoff Games

The stadium, which has a capacity of 71,870 fans, will allow around 6,700 fans to enter. Fans will have to test negative for COVID in order to enter, via an on-site rapid test they will have to pay for themselves. The tests cost $63 each, and will be included in the price of the ticket. 

The stadium will allow staggered entry beginning two hours prior to the game. Once inside, fans will have to adhere to strict protocols. They will be required to wear masks at all times and socially distance. Anyone who doesn’t comply will be ejected. 

“This Is Not Just About…a Football Game”

Since March, New York State sports stadiums and arenas have barred fans. The announcement that fans would be allowed in Bills Stadium in January came as a surprise and offered a glimmer of hope to beleaguered New York sports fans who are dying for some in-person action. 

“This is not just about attending a football game,” Cuomo said in his press conference Wednesday. “We are trying to find a way to reopen businesses.” He noted that, while the Bills are far from the first team to allow fans during the 2020-21 season, they are the first to utilize testing prominently in the reopening model. 

The decision was met with some criticism, however. Many small businesses, particularly restaurants in New York City, remain shuttered in light of recent spikes in COVID numbers. Some schools in New York City remain closed as well. Critics argue that this is just another example of big businesses getting a reprieve while small businesses continue to suffer. 

Supporters of the decision insist it’s not that simple. The fans are paying for the rapid tests themselves; it’s not as though the state is providing that service for the team. Plus, the stadium is outdoors, while many of the shuttered businesses are indoors. 

Fans at Baseball Games in 2021? 

Could this mean good news for baseball fans for the 2021 season? If this reopening model works, it’s possible that a version of it could be implemented for Yankee and Met games. 

Still, questions remain. If fans are required to pay for their own rapid test, it’s unlikely many will be willing to pay an additional $60 just to attend a regular, run-of-the-mill baseball game. The Bills game is a playoff game; it’s not unrealistic to think people would be willing to shell out extra cash to attend. But the average fan isn’t going to pay $85 to sit in the upper deck to watch a baseball game, especially when it’s one out of 162. 

Another downside is both Citi Field and Yankee Stadium are located in the confines of New York City, where reopenings have been slower and more careful due to population density. 

Cuomo also stated contact tracing would play a part in allowing fans into the Bills game. It’s possible MLB teams could utilize it as well. 

The hope is also that by April much more of the general population will be vaccinated, and coupled with the warmer weather and emergence from flu season, COVID numbers will begin to descend. 

One thing is for sure: New Yorkers, no matter what team they root for, will be watching how the Bills Mafia experiment plays out. If it’s a success, it could act as the blueprint for more reopenings, sports and otherwise, in New York State. 

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Elizabeth DiPietro

Liz DiPietro has been a staff writer for In The Zone since 2011. She is a New York City public school teacher working at a middle school in Brooklyn, NY. Liz has a Master's of Creative Writing from Queens College and a Master's of Special Education from the College of Staten Island. She is a diehard Yankees, Knicks, and Jets fan and exercise enthusiast. Liz lives in Staten Island, NY with her husband Dave and 2-year-old son Christopher.

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