It's been a tumultuous season for the NFL, to say the least, but it did as promised and delivered a full 256 regular season games despite the raging COVID-19 pandemic that shut down every sports league around the globe at some point in 2020. With the playoffs now well underway and the conference championships set to take place on Sunday, there was still the question of how many fans the league would allow in attendance at Super Bowl LV in Tampa, Florida, but that's now been answered. The NFL announced that while the numbers will be only a fraction of the usual -- for the obvious, aforementioned reason -- it will still permit 22,000 fans to be in the stands at Raymond James Stadium.
Only 14,500 of those tickets will be released for sale, however, because the remaining 7,500 will be given free of charge to vaccinated health care workers in the Tampa area, the league announced on Friday. Each of those workers will also have free access to game day experiences directly from the NFL in addition to their free invite to attend game on Feb. 7.
"These dedicated health care workers continue to put their own lives at risk to serve others, and we owe them our ongoing gratitude," league commissioner Roger Goodell said in an official statement. "We hope in a small way that this initiative will inspire our country and recognize these true American heroes. This is also an opportunity to promote the importance of vaccination and appropriate health practices, including wearing masks in public settings."
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor is elated at the gesture.
"Our local healthcare workers have worked around the clock to ensure the health and safety of our community, and I cannot think of a better way to honor them than with the eyes of the world on our hometown for Super Bowl LV," she said. "Our country has endured so much over the last year and we can't lose sight of those who worked day in and day out to keep us safe. Thank you to the NFL for helping make this happen."
Her sentiment is echoed by many other state and local officials, including Mike Schultz, president and CEO of AdventHealth West Florida Division. In collaboration with CBS, the NFL will also broadcast a variety of special moments aimed at showing added appreciation for those on the front line of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"This is not only an exciting opportunity for AdventHealth team members, but a well-deserved one," he said. "We are honored to have a group of dedicated health care teams who have remained steadfast in delivering lifesaving care to our communities, despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. They have also put their hearts into providing emotional support to our patients, in many cases being the last hand a patient holds. It has been an emotional year for our caregivers and we are so grateful to the NFL for recognizing the sacrifice and commitment of all health care frontline teams."
As for the remaining 14,500 available seats, the league has not yet announced when and how they'll go on sale initially but, once they do, there's no doubt the prices might melt a few eyeballs.