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DeSantis wants fans at Bucs games as Florida enters Phase 3 of its reopening

The governor says it’s important to show that Tampa can host a “full Super Bowl” come February.
A Bucs fan mans the pirate ship during the third quarter of the home opener against the Carolina Panthers Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.
A Bucs fan mans the pirate ship during the third quarter of the home opener against the Carolina Panthers Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Sep. 25, 2020
Updated Sep. 25, 2020

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis continued to drive his point home Friday that he’d like to see Bucs games at Raymond James Stadium opened to fans.

The remarks came during a news conference in which he announced bars and restaurants can operate at full capacity as the state moves into Phase 3 of its reopening plan.

Before the season began, the Bucs announced they would not have fans for the first two home games: this past Sunday’s home opener against the Panthers and Oct. 4 against the Chargers.

The earliest the Bucs may possibly admit some fans is Oct. 18, when they host the Packers. Season ticket holders still have not received any specifics.

“They want to go slower than anyone. So it’s not like they want to have full capacity," DeSantis said. "But I think you can do much more than what’s been done. Outdoor transmission (of the coronavirus) has just not been a major factor.

"It doesn’t mean it can’t happen. It doesn’t mean there aren’t things that you can think about in some of these venues. But I’d like to have fans in some capacity and then let’s build going forward.”

The state’s other two NFL teams — the Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars — played their home openers in front of fans.

The Dolphins opened 13,000 seats, but drew just 11,075. The Jaguars, operating at approximately 25 percent capacity, drew 14,100 fans in Week 1 and had 16,563 fans at home on Thursday night.

Raymond James Stadium was being re-situated for fans during a scrimmage last month, with seats zip-tied to create pods of open seats for social distancing.

Empty seats at Raymond James Stadium, which have zip ties on them to keep them from unfolding.
Empty seats at Raymond James Stadium, which have zip ties on them to keep them from unfolding. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

DeSantis said he’s believes fans want to attend Bucs games to watch Tom Brady play in person, but also noted, again, it is important to have fans in the stands to show the NFL that Tampa can host Super Bowl 55 in February.

“I’ve supported that. It’s not really a question of government. It’s really what the league’s been comfortable with,” he said. "I very much support the Bucs having fans. We expect to do a full Super Bowl, and we’re going to show that we’re going to be able to do that.

“I think they can still do that. And I know there’s some issues about insurance and all these other things, and I respect that and maybe we’ll address that after the election here in Florida with the new legislature. But, yeah, I think it’s important.”

In a Facebook Live with Tampa mayor Jane Castor on Sept. 9, Bucs chief operating officer Brian Ford said that the team was working toward opening the stadium to fans for the Bucs' third home game on Oct. 18 against the Packers.

Ford didn’t give any details about the potential capacity of Raymond James at that time, but said more details about fans returning would come out later in the month.

He said when Raymond James reopens, masks would be mandatory at all times inside the stadium unless fans are eating or drinking. He added that the stadium will be fitted for COVID-19 protocols, including mobile cashless concessions service, touchless bathroom faucets and digitally scanned tickets

The team will reach out to season ticket holder about potential single-game purchase opportunities, but priority will be based on tenure.

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Contact Eduardo A. Encina at eencina@tampabay.com. Follow @EddieInTheYard.