While they are planning to have fans in the stands, the Steelers do not expect to be able to hold a capacity crowd when they host home games at Heinz Field during the 2020 season. The team, in an e-mail to season ticket holders earlier this week, also stated that wearing masks will be required when fans enter the stadium. This is in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
"Our goal is to still have fans at Heinz Field this year with the understanding that social distancing, as well as all fans being required to wear masks, will play a role in the capacity to ensure a safe atmosphere," Steelers spokesman Burt Lauten in a statement, via the team's official website. "We will continue to work with the NFL and public health officials to finalize plans for fans to attend our home games.
"We are communicating with our season ticket holders to make them aware of the digital ticketing process we will employ this season at Heinz Field for a more flexible solution as we prepare for potential reduced capacity. We will continue the process of allowing our fans to opt out of their 2020 season tickets if they feel they are uniquely affected by the current situation."
Pittsburgh's e-mail to season ticket holders occurred on the same day that the Ravens announced that the capacity at M&T Bank Stadium will be set to just 14,000, which is an 81.3% cut from the stadium's normal capacity of roughly 71,000. The Chiefs and Packers have also announced that the capacity at their stadiums will be drastically reduced.
While the NFL's plan remains to have a 17-week regular season (which a full slate of playoff games after that), the league has already reduced the preseason from four games to two. The Pro Football Hall of Fame has canceled its annual preseason game as well as its 2020 induction ceremony. The Steelers and Cowboys -- the two teams scheduled to play in this year's Hall of Fame Game -- will instead play in Canton in 2021. This year's Hall of Fame class will also be honored with their own ceremony next summer.
NFL training camps are expected to begin starting later this month, as teams will begin practicing together for the first time this offseason. Due to the pandemic, the league canceled OTAs and minicamps, which means that members of the 2020 rookie class have yet to take part in an official team practice. The lack of group preparation is a concern for Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, who, like every other NFL coach, has been virtually communicating with his players over the past several months.
As it relates to his rookie class, Tomlin said that he and the Steelers are "turning over every stone to make it as impactful as we can make it, and the guys are active participants in that in the skills that they bring." Tomlin said that, during a recent Zoom meeting, he challenged his rookie class to become better listeners, comparing that skill to hitting a golf ball.
"You go to the driving range, you acknowledge that certain people are naturally better at golf than others," Tomlin recently told Jalen McCain during an Instagram video. "Listening is the same way. So if you're a good listener, first of all, you need to be thankful for that, because you're blessed in that way. But you also need to acknowledge that you can get better at it, because it's a skill. Probably the most important thing is, if you're not a good listener, you better know it, and you better take the necessary steps to work at it and improve.
"Because being a poor listener slows down progress in all areas. People give you good information all the time that are helping you in in your journey. If you're a good listener, you retain those messages, and you roll with it. Today, in this type of environment, we're acknowledging, 'Yeah, we're not doing physical work, but we are getting a lot of information, and what are you doing with it? How much of it are you obtaining? What skillset do you bring to the stage in terms of listening?' And really just making guys focus on something that maybe they don't spend a lot time focusing on. So there's little things like that that these circumstances really create for all of us that we spend a little time thinking about."