TAMPA, Fla. – NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said Monday that even with COVID-19 vaccines now being distributed to hospitals nationwide, NFL players and staff ahead of Super Bowl LV, slated for Feb.7 , will not exceed the limits of vaccination in 2021.
He also stressed that with the event 55 days away, the league must be prepared to “adapt and evolve” on the coronavirus which affects 16.5 million people in the US and more than 300,000 lives in the country have requested.
“We don’t plan to have any of our employees vaccinated before the Super Bowl,” said Goodell the day after attending the Buccaneers Vikings game in Tampa, the location of Super Bowl LV.
“This is obviously happening at a higher level, obviously giving priority to healthcare workers, first responders and those in the most risky condition. We don’t fall into those categories so we don’t anticipate or plan for it.”
No decision has been made on stadium capacity, which has been 25% at Raymond James Stadium since week 6 of this season. This is the maximum allowed under the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and includes approximately 16,000 fans.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis cleared Florida stadiums to full capacity as part of the state’s Phase 3 reopening plan in October – and has been criticized in some circles for its aggressive reopening strategies – but the NFL teams have each other not raised above the level of reopening strategies 25% threshold. Goodell said DeSantis hadn’t pushed for higher seating numbers.
“We’re going to try to get as many fans as possible to Raymond James Stadium,” said Goodell. “I’m not sure there is a certain number that we’re confident will say, ‘This will be it’, but of course our focus will be on protecting whoever is on it.”
“The governor was very supportive of the Super Bowl,” said Goodell, who met with DeSantis before last year’s Super Bowl in Miami. “He was very supportive of that, but he also knows how important it is to do it safely and responsibly. You have been very supportive of us and we appreciate that.”
The league is also confident it can host the event despite the high number of COVID-19 cases in Florida. The White House’s coronavirus task report released a report last week that found Florida to be in the “red zone,” the 33rd highest rate in the country, with a positivity rate greater than 10.1%. Hillsborough County, where Tampa is located, is doing better and is in the “orange zone” with positivity rates between 8.0% and 10%.
When asked what the NFL can do to ensure this event does not contribute to the further spread of the virus, such as encouraging fans to gather in large groups, as is usually the case in Super Bowl host cities, pointed out Goodell’s trail of the league’s record that season as a reason for his optimism.
“We as a league have a positive attitude of less than 1% and we have obviously worked hard with the players’ association and our medical experts to take the necessary steps not to be part of the problem but actually to be part of the solution and.” Try to do things in a way that is responsible and safe, not only for our staff but also for the communities we serve, “Goodell said.” We also want to make sure we are sending the right messages and send the right messages to do things safely, and take the right precautions in our communities – social distancing and PPE (personal protective equipment) as we all work and get together at different times. “
Overall, Goodell said he was encouraged by what he saw in Tampa and what he saw across the league, with no outbreaks reported by fans attending games.
“We felt incredibly safe in the stadium yesterday,” said Goodell, who was in the stands with his family for about a quarter and a half. “We have been able to have fans in half our stadiums this year and we have been able to do it successfully and safely for our fans and you can see how much fun they are having. It will be different and we will.” We have to make sure we take precautions and we will use our platform to make sure people are doing things safely. “
Goodell admitted that the pandemic could lead the league to push for the two Super Bowl teams to arrive later instead of spending a full week in Tampa as they have in the past. However, this decision will not be made until the event approaches. The opening night, when players meet the media – and which has become a prime time event in recent years – will be virtual. The NFL Honors red carpet event will also focus more on television.
“A number of things will inevitably be different,” said Peter O’Reilly, executive vice president of the NFL. “But different is not always worse, and we believe we can be innovative and adaptable and create a really powerful Super Bowl week that culminates in a really consistent game day on Sunday.”
There was also no push to give Tampa another Super Bowl because its businesses and tourism wouldn’t get the same boost or funding it would get in a year without a pandemic. But Goodell, who met with local business and community leaders on Monday, pointed to the high number of Super Bowls the city has already hosted (Super Bowl LV will be in town for the fifth time) and believes that team owners will be attentive of his ability to host such a major event, something that few outside the confines of a bubble in the pandemic would have thought possible would be possible.
“One of the things we learned from our experience this year, going back to the beginning of the free agency, the off-season and drafting, is that we need to be ready to adapt and evolve,” said Goodell. “Our protocols have changed and have evolved over the course of the season. We’ll keep looking at this and we’ll be looking at this for the next 55 days.”
“Of course we have taken the necessary steps to minimize the risk to our employees in our communities and we will continue to do so. However, we are not going to make any predictions about what the current environment will be like in 55 days. We will We will adapt and we will move forward as the data becomes clearer and health officials and others in the community give us the best guidance. “