Fire marshals force Broncos to dial back training camp crowds

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- One Denver Broncos tweet, one set of 2013 blueprints, one building permit and one fire marshal’s office.

Add all that up and it’s why a lot fewer people will catch a glimpse of first-year coach Sean Payton, quarterback Russell Wilson and the rest of the Broncos at training camp in the coming weeks. The Broncos, because of county regulations that have been on the books since they finished the project to open Pat Bowlen Fieldhouse in 2015, are capping daily training camp crowds at 3,000.

Since the team opened its indoor practice facility in 2015, daily attendance has routinely topped 4,000-5,000 people. But a tweet sent out by the team last July caught the attention of officials. It announced a crowd of 7,121 with a photo of a packed hillside next to the team’s fieldhouse.

“Someone then sent us the tweet and said ‘that seems like an awful lot, can it really hold that?’" South Metro Fire Department spokesman Eric Hurst told ESPN. “And just like any complaint our office would receive, our fire marshal’s office went there, visited the site. The Broncos staff at the time didn’t know how many people were in attendance at that moment.

“People leave, some come later, there was a question if all 7,000 people were there at the same time, but regardless, the fire marshal’s office then has some conversations with the Broncos moving forward and said that capacity needs to be adhered to.’’

As a result, the Broncos have used tickets to keep the crowds at a maximum of 3,000 this summer. The tickets are free and available on Ticketmaster for fans to select individual practices.

Hurst said it's the responsibility of any business to regulate its capacity. In order to monitor how many people are on-site at any point during practice the Broncos could use tickets or ushers and clickers, to make sure the limit of 3,200 is not exceeded.

The Broncos’ rookies reported for training camp Wednesday and the veteran players will report next Tuesday. The first of 12 open practices for fans to attend will be July 28.

Arapahoe County spokesman Anders Nelson said the blueprints “signed and stamped by the architects’’ in the process to get building permits for the fieldhouse in 2013 listed capacity at 3,200 for the area around the fieldhouse, including the hillside where fans sit for practices as well as a plaza next to the fieldhouse. That total would include team staff, players and other support personnel as well as fans.

And 3,200 was also the capacity listed on the “certificate of occupancy’’ issued by the county February 5, 2015, when the fieldhouse and adjacent hillside were completed, Nelson said.

“That capacity doesn’t change unless there are modifications made to the site,’’ Nelson said. “No modifications were made. So, if the Broncos wanted to increase the capacity, they would have to make modifications to the property.’’

Broncos CEO/owner Greg Penner has said repeatedly the ownership group, which assumed control of the team last August, is reviewing all potential future projects, including some improvements made at the team's downtown stadium -- Empower Field at Mile High. And that is expected to include potential changes to its south suburban Denver practice complex.

Hurst said the main issue at the moment is how fans would have to exit the hillside in case of some kind of emergency.

“The exit paths are actually up and behind where the spectators sit -- gates are opened in case of emergency -- and the (playing) field is not actually a path people should take if there is an emergency,’’ Hurst said. “So, as the property stands right now, we have to go by the original number.’’