As the Pro Football Hall of Fame plans to host visitors Wednesday for the first time since March, leaders of pro football's mecca still have their eye on early August for their annual prized weekend of events.
The Hall of Fame enshrinement scheduled for the weekend of Aug. 6-8 is still a go, with the annual Hall of Fame Game between the Steelers and Cowboys kicking off the weekend Aug. 6. It is scheduled to be the first exhibition in the 2020 NFL preseason — with fans in attendance — with the coronavirus pandemic still gripping the nation.
"One of the things we're hoping for and that we're willing to do is to almost be the test case for the NFL," Rich Desrosiers, VP of communications for the Hall, told CBSSports.com this week. "Give us the green light and we'll show folks how it can be done safely for fans, safely for participants and safely for the employees here. We feel very positive about the prospects of this happening in early August."
The more than 20,000 game tickets were sold out within a half-hour when they went on sale. More than 10,000 tickets have also been purchased for the enshrinement ceremony.
And for now, all systems are a go. The NFL has said numerous times it plans to play a full 17-week schedule with fans in the stands this year. Similarly, Desrosiers says the weekend is still intact as of now.
Of course, there's still plenty to be determined. The NFL and NFL Players Association have still not agreed to collectively bargained protocols that can safely put players on the field for training camp (though they're making progress in that direction). As of today, sports stadiums in the state of Ohio still aren't open. And it's still hard to predict what this virus will do two months from now.
While the Hall doesn't have a strict internal drop-dead date, the general understanding is that a decision for the August weekend must be made by July 1 at the very latest due to preparations and travel for Hall members.
The most realistic contingency for the Hall is sliding the game and ceremonies back later in August, should the NFL compress its preseason or begin later than expected. They could also move the 2020 enshrinement to a spring weekend (say, Easter) in 2021 or combine both classes come August 2021.
What seems to be off the table is any sort of virtual enshrinement. And Desrosiers says it's "iffy" the Hall would move the enshrinement into September to coincide with the 10-player Centennial class and not have a game to tie in.
The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame pushed its ceremony from late August until next spring. The Baseball Hall of Fame canceled its late-July induction ceremony and will induct the 2020 class with the 2021 class next July.
But those Halls don't have an exhibition event like the Pro Football Hall of Fame. This year's game draws from two of the largest fanbases in all of the NFL, and that means major money for the Hall of Fame.
Desrosiers couldn't put a number on it, but he agreed that the August weekend represents a significant portion of the Hall's annual revenue. With two big-revenue weekends missed in Easter and Memorial Day, the Hall could really use the revenue from the Hall of Fame Game and weekend events.
Should the NFL get its preseason underway as scheduled, the Hall would still have to deal with state laws. Places like casinos and amusement parks in Ohio won't open until June 19. The Memorial Tournament will be played in mid-July with less than 10,000 spectators a day.
And per the Columbus Dispatch, Ohio's lieutenant governor said the state will work with sports-venue operators to find a "way to size them" to reduce the number of fans in attendance.
"We feel like if we get to the point where [Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine] opens up outdoor amusement parks next week and we go a couple of weeks where there are no spike in cases," Desrosiers says, "we may see an even greater easing of admissions of our museum and additionally where we can have a larger scale event in our outdoor venues."
What exactly that'd look like for fans — like how you would space people 6 feet apart in a sold-out stadium — is a bridge the Hall hasn't yet had to cross.
"We haven't laid out all the protocols for what that'd look like for an outside event," Desrosiers says. "We'd be looking at some guidance from the governor for that and assuming that we still have eight weeks to see what that might look like."
For the museum itself, doors open at 9 a.m. local time. In the 57-year history of the physical Hall of Fame museum leading up to March, it'd have never been closed for more than two consecutive days. Wednesday will mark nearly three months since it was last open.
Per state ordinances, the museum will be able to host about 800 people, which is roughly a quarter of its capacity. Employees have their temperature checked daily and are required to wear masks.
Hand sanitizer stations have been installed throughout the museum and one-way traffic flow is required. Masks for patrons are heavily encouraged but not mandatory. The Hall will also give each visitor a disposable stylus to use for the keypads on the interactive exhibits and elevators.