The NFL is making plans to open its stadiums to full capacity for the 2021 season, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Tuesday.
Speaking to reporters after the first day of a two-day virtual meeting of owners, Goodell said: "All of us in the NFL want to see every one of our fans back. Football is simply not the same without fans, and we expect to have full stadiums in the upcoming season."
Some of that expectation is based on factors beyond the NFL's control. The league never established an attendance cap while playing during the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, deferring instead to individual teams in conjunction with state and local regulations. Attendance dipped more than 90% compared to 2019 and a total of 1.2 million fans were included in attendance counts for the entire regular season and postseason. League revenues fell accordingly.
In some cases, the NFL will need local municipalities to sign off on attendance plans in order to fully open up their stadiums for 2021. Vaccine rates might also play a factor. A total of 18 NFL stadiums are in use as mass vaccination sites and to date, 1.5 million shots have been administered at those sites, according to the league.
NFL chief medical officer Dr. Allen Sills said last week that the league would encourage but not require players, coaches and staff to be vaccinated. The league and the NFL Players Association are continuing to negotiate the terms of the offseason program, which the league told teams would begin April 19. The NFLPA is advocating for a fully virtual offseason, similar to what the league transitioned to in 2020, while owners would like players back in the team facilities for traditional minicamps and OTAs.