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Bucs will play in front of home ‘crowd’ next week vs. Chargers

The team will open Raymond James Stadium for fans one home game earlier than planned.
A look at the stadium with no fans before the Tampa Bay Buccaneers take on the  Carolina Panthers at Raymond James Stadium last Sunday.
A look at the stadium with no fans before the Tampa Bay Buccaneers take on the Carolina Panthers at Raymond James Stadium last Sunday. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Sep. 26, 2020
Updated Sep. 26, 2020

TAMPA — The Bucs will open Raymond James Stadium to fans beginning with the team’s next home game, Oct. 4, against the Los Angeles Chargers.

Initially, the Bucs planned to play their first two games in front of no fans — last Sunday’s home opener against Carolina and the Chargers game — with the focus on reopening Oct. 18 against the Green Bay Packers.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order Friday that lifts all remaining statewide coronavirus-related restrictions on businesses throughout the state, expediting the Bucs' decision.

“The safety of all involved has been our No. 1 priority throughout this process,” Bucs chief operating officer Brian Ford said in a statement. “There simply is no way to replicate the energy and excitement that our fans provide for our players on the field. We remain thankful for the opportunity to experience this great season alongside our most passionate fans at Raymond James Stadium.”

Tickets for next Sunday’s game are slated to go on sale to the team’s longest-tenured season-ticket holders — those with continuous plans dating to 1998, the stadium’s first year, and earlier — on Thursday. It will be considered a soft opening, permitting no more than around 10,000 fans.

Related: No fans at Super Bowl 55? Anything is possible

Beginning with the Packers game, Raymond James Stadium — which holds approximately 65,000 fans — will begin to operate at 25 percent capacity (16,250).

The day after the Chargers game, season-ticket holders who kept this year’s payments as credit for 2021 will have the opportunity to purchase a limited number of tickets for up to two of the remaining five home games. Priority also will be based on tenure.

Seats will be sold in pods of up to six — depending on how many seats season-ticket holders have in their plan — to allow for social distancing. Late last month, during a Bucs scrimmage, some seats were zip-tied to create clusters.

Suite holders will have full access to their suites for the rest of the season starting next week, and club-level season-pass holders will have opportunities to attend all remaining home games, with seating and pricing based on availability due to physical distancing measures.

During Friday’s news conference, DeSantis said he wanted to see fans allowed to attend Bucs home games, especially since Florida’s other two NFL teams — the Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars — have already hosted some fans. DeSantis also said opening up Raymond James to fans now is important to show the NFL that Tampa can host Super Bowl 55 in February.

“They want to go slower than anyone,” DeSantis said of the Bucs. “So it’s not like they want to have full capacity. 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.”

The Bucs had a reopening plan that would allow them to open the stadium at any point of the season, and as an organization, felt the Phase 3 reopening was the necessary move to prompt fan admittance. The team is open to increasing seating capacity throughout the season as the Super Bowl approaches.

The Bucs played their opener against the New Orleans Saints inside an empty Superdome that received Fox’s best Week 1 TV broadcast ratings in four years.

Safety measures the Bucs and the Tampa Sports Authority have made to keep the stadium safe for fans include full mobile ticketing and cashless concession transactions, touchless restroom facilities, enhanced sanitation measures and improved food preparation safety protocols at all concessions areas.

“We have been working tirelessly with local and state authorities, as well as medical experts, to ensure a safe environment at Raymond James Stadium,” Ford said. “We are ready and excited to welcome our fans back.”

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