Super Bowl 55 likely to feature limited audience at Raymond James Stadium

The NFL says it is considering 20 percent capacity with pods of fans wearing face masks.
Fans are socially distanced in the 300 level during the first quarter of the game between the Green Bay Packers at Buccaneers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.
Fans are socially distanced in the 300 level during the first quarter of the game between the Green Bay Packers at Buccaneers and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020, at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Oct. 28, 2020|Updated Oct. 28, 2020

The NFL is considering a plan for Raymond James Stadium to be only 20 percent full for Super Bowl 55 early next year, with the possibility it also could expand that figure in coming months.

The 22-year-old stadium has a capacity of 65,618. The audience would be a little more than 13,000 at 20 percent, which is similar to what Tampa Bay Buccaneers home contests currently permit, based on social-distance protocols established by the team and Tampa Sports Authority, which operates the stadium.

“The safety of the public, attendees, players and personnel continues to be our foremost priority,” said NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy on Wednesday afternoon. "...There is no set capacity figure at this time as we continue to monitor the ongoing pandemic with more than three months to go before the Super Bowl on Feb. 7.

“There have been 19 teams that have already or have been authorized by public authorities to host regular-season games. The average has been around 20 percent with fans seated in pods and everyone wearing face coverings. Among the scenarios we are exploring is a capacity of around that figure, but we anticipate it could grow as we get closer to the game.”

Rob Higgins, president/chief executive of the Tampa Bay Bay Super Bowl 55 Host Committee, also confirmed there is no finalized seating capacity.

“We’ll be following conditions in the county and the state, and the League will make a determination based on approvals locally,” he said. "Clubs across the league — including the Bucs — are starting to include more and more fans into stadiums, but are not currently at full capacity.”

Local organizers and business leaders are counting on the game — the fifth hosted by Tampa — to recoup some of the millions lost in tourism dollars last spring when two globally popular sporting events were called off or moved elsewhere due to the coronavirus.

In March, Amalie Arena was set to serve as a host site for an opening weekend of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, which was canceled. In April, Raymond James Stadium was slated to host WrestleMania 36, moved to an indoor arena in Orlando with no live audience.

But Santiago Corrada, president and chief executive of Visit Tampa Bay, said a Super Bowl still can provide a boon of sorts even with a limited audience.

Citing data from hotel industry analyst STR, Inc., Corrada said average hotel occupancy in Hillsborough County gradually has risen in recent months, from 23.2 percent in April to 50.1 percent for the first three weeks of October.

“I wasn’t in the camp that was expecting it to be a normal Super Bowl. But I can also tell you that it is a positive thing that we’re hosting a Super Bowl,” he said.

“I’ve always said that people go to a community hosting a Super Bowl sometimes not just for the game. They come because they want to visit that Super Bowl environment. They want to go to the fan events. They want to go and visit a destination that has the greatest game being played and be a part of that ambience.”

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Problem is, little to none of that typical ambience (in terms of interactive fan events, concerts, etc.) could be available this time around, though all COVID-19 restrictions on bars and restaurants in Florida have been lifted.

Regardless, Corrada indicated the value — in terms of global exposure — to a Super Bowl host city can’t be quantified.

“Yeah, we didn’t have the Rays playing in town (for the World Series) ... and we didn’t have a full stadium, but we have a ton of media exposure where the words ‘Tampa Bay’ are mentioned over and over and over again," he said.

"And when you have the media exposure of a Super Bowl, there’s something to be said about the kind of marketing that does for your community.”