As the calendar continues to inch closer to the NFL season, the league is still trying to figure out how to solve multiple problems related to the coronavirus pandemic. One major issue the NFL is dealing with is how to make sure players stay healthy, while another issue the league is dealing with is how to make sure the NFL's 32 teams can recoup some of the money that will be lost if fans can't attend games.
With the season still more than two months away, it appears the league has now solved both of those problems. NFL owners on Thursday approved allowing teams to cover the seats closest to the field with a tarp that could include sponsor logos. The Sports Business Journal reported earlier this week that the NFL would require that all teams tarp off the first six to eight rows of their stadiums this year. Part of the reason this is being done is so that fans won't be in close proximity to any players, which will theoretically limit player exposure to the virus while they're on the sideline.
The other upside to the tarps is that the league will allow teams to sell advertising on them, which would be one way to recoup some of the money they might lose due to lower attendance numbers. CBS Sports NFL Insider Jonathan Jones actually wrote about this possibility back in May. After speaking to multiple league sources about new ways teams might look to make money, using a tarp for advertising was near the top of the list (Jones' list also included the possibility of putting advertising on field goal nets, which is something that has been done at the college level for years).
One other thing the NFL is going to allow this year is for teams to sell signage in the stadium that is visible on television. Currently, the NFL has a "40-foot rule" in place, which mandates teams cannot have local advertising in the space 40 feet above field level. That rule will be relaxed so that teams can bring in more income.
Normally, the NFL is highly sensitive about what brands get shown on camera during a game. For the most part, if you're watching an NFL game, you'll only see stuff from official league partners like Nike, Microsoft, Bose, Gatorade and Oakley. According to SBJ, the proposal to relax these rules will be given to the owners on Thursday, and they're expected to vote it through.
With tarps now expected to be covering the front rows at NFL stadiums this year, that means every team will be working with a reduced capacity in 2020. Although the NFL is mandating the tarps, the league won't mandate anything else when it comes to attendance. According to The Athletic, the NFL will allow each team to dictate its own stadium capacity this year, and that number will be based on local health rules and protocols that are in place for the pandemic.
The NFL has slowly been ramping up its planning for the 2020 season, and despite the recent rash of new COVID-19 cases around the country, the league is still reportedly optimistic that the 2020 season will be able to start on time. Although the league is still finalizing its protocols for the year, NFLPA medical director Thom Mayer announced on June 16 that players will likely be tested up to three times per week to prevent the spread of the virus.