The 2020 NFL season will feature one of its first big matchups in its very first week, but fans will not be able to attend it due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
The New Orleans Saints' Sept. 13 home opener against Tom Brady's Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be played without fans in attendance, the team announced Wednesday.
"While we have put together a comprehensive plan that will allow us to safely host fans at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, that plan has always been dependent on how effectively we, as a community and region, are battling Covid-19," Saints president Dennis Lauscha said in a statement released by the team. "We have given this situation as much time as possible to see the type of improvement necessary to welcome fans into the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, but unfortunately, medical experts indicate that trends are not improving rapidly enough for us to begin the season with fan attendance.
"As we have noted, while we are not allowing fans in the first home game, we remain cautiously optimistic that fans may be able to attend our September 27 game vs. Green Bay, but stress that fans need to remain flexible and adaptable in case we cannot. We are keenly aware of the outstanding home field advantage that our fans provide our team, and we are as eager as anyone to welcome them back."
Wednesday's news means Brady's first divisional battle against Saints quarterback and fellow future Hall of Famer Drew Brees will take place in a quiet Superdome, not the normally raucous environment that has made the venerated stadium a place to fear for visiting teams.
The Saints' announcement is far from the first of its kind. Recently, the Green Bay Packers announced their first two home games would be played without fans.
Wednesday's announcement from New Orleans comes with the backing of its mayor, LaToya Cantrell.
"The City of New Orleans and all of our fans are ready for football season and to cheer on our Saints, but the safety of fans, players, and the many employees of the team and Superdome must come first," Cantrell said in the same release. "We are beginning to trend back in the right direction, but we are not where we need to be yet. As I have said from the beginning of our response to this pandemic, our decisions will be guided by data, and until we get to where we need to be, we will have to support the Saints from the sidelines at home."
The message from the Saints and from the city was similar in its encouragement for fans to focus less on their inability to attend the home opener, and more on working together to fight the spread of COVID-19.
"We must do everything within our power to improve the current trends not just so that we can attend games together, but so that our kids can go back to school safely, so that commerce and our economy can reopen and so that generations of Saints fans can attend games together safely," Lauscha said. "We believe in fighting for our fans and all of the economic benefits for our city. We need our community to put all of its considerable determination into fighting this virus, and hopefully, we will be celebrating a season-long return of fans to our games."