Prepackaged food at concession stands.
A discussion about whether to open the roof now involves how natural light and air flow aids in the fight against pathogens.
A much different experience awaits fans Sunday at AT&T Stadium when the Cowboys open the home portion of their regular-season schedule against Atlanta. The club will release details about how different later in the week.
Conversations with several officials paints at least a partial picture of what lies ahead for this opener unlike any other. Let’s start with attendance.
Only two games in Week 1 of the NFL season were played in front of fans. There were 15,895 at Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium and 14,100 people at Jacksonville’s TIAA Bank Field.
Owner Jerry Jones has steadfastly deflected questions about how many fans he expects for Sunday’s game against the Falcons, stressing a safe environment is the overriding concern. But the Cowboys should easily surpass what the Chiefs did last week, and Dallas is expected to top the totals of Miami, Indianapolis and Cleveland, the other teams to allow fans in their stadiums in Week 2.
Estimate a crowd in the range of 22,000 to 25,000 for Sunday’s game.
Texas is currently in Phase Three of reopening its economy, a stage that allows outdoor stadiums to admit up to 50% of its total capacity for sporting events. The Cowboys averaged 90,929 fans at AT&T Stadium last season. Why a number well below half that total?
Pods. Fans will be seated in pods within sections. That fluctuates the attendance total.
Example: the more pods of eight, 10 or 12 people that sit together, the more the Cowboys can accommodate. Single tickets or a pair of tickets that constitute a pod decrease that number.
Suites are also in play. Since all suites are enclosed at AT&T Stadium they are viewed as separate lease agreements, much like an apartment. Suite owners are allowed to fill every seat in their box with no social distancing, but they can’t have standing room like they normally would.
No standing room tickets in the stadium, either.
Bill Rhoda is the president of Global Planning for Legends, the company that oversees operations at AT&T Stadium. Surveys have gone out to customers periodically since COVID-19 hit.
“The fans we’ve talked to, they want to come back,” Rhoda said. “But they want to come back to an environment that’s safe where they’re not going to get the virus. Is the building safe, and who am I sitting next to?”
The Cowboys aren’t just selling a return to live sports against the Falcons. They have to sell safety.
Cleaning crews have been discreet in how they go about their work during games in the past. Not anymore.
Teams of disinfection specialists will be apparent throughout the stadium. This is not about cleaning up mustard on a serving station or beer spilled on the floor. These groups will constantly clean surfaces over the course of the game.
“They will be out there disinfecting the building and surfaces during the event,” Rhoda said. "Elevators. Escalators. Counter tops. All of those areas that are considered high-touch.
“The cleaning just won’t be visually different. It will be biologically different. We’re talking about different types of chemicals and a process and training that goes along with this.”
Other noticeable differences?
Pre-packaged food at concession stands. A cashless, ticketless environment. There will be officials enforcing that people wear masks in the stadium except when eating or drinking.
There will be monitors at the restrooms at halftime, knowing that’s when the most number of people leave their seats. The good news: There will be fewer people using the same number of facilities.
The number of entry points at AT&T Stadium is a plus and will help keep too many people from clustering in one area. Air flow within the stadium is crucial.
The Cowboys rarely have the doors and/or roof open for September games. That will change. The doors will almost certainly be open. There’s a chance the roof will be as well.
The team may actually have a game this season when the doors and roof are open and the air conditioning is running, something that has never happened on this site.
“Air flow is an important point,” Rhoda said. "Natural light and air helps with reduction in pathogens.
"The total game day experience will be a little bit different. The goal is to have a socially distanced experience, and that’s not what sporting venues are designed to be.
“The key for us and the fans is comfort and safety. There has been a lot of planning.”
The goal is to replicate the normal game experience as closely as possible while adhering to the new guidelines. While the number of fans for Sunday’s game will be greatly reduced, the number of workers in the stadium will be roughly the same as it would be for a crowd of 90,000-plus.
There have been a few dry runs. The stadium has hosted 11 graduation events and the blue-white scrimmage. Club officials have spoken to the Chiefs and Jaguars and discovered fans for those games arrived just before kickoff and left immediately after the game. They didn’t linger.
Rhoda pointed out the events of 9/11 had a dramatic impact on security standards in public venues.
The coronavirus will have the same impact in a different way.
“COVID will have the exact same impact on how these buildings are cleaned,” Rhoda said.
“It will be different going forward.”
Catch David Moore on The Ticket (KTCK-AM 1310 and 96.7 FM) with the Musers on M/W/F at 9:35 a.m., BaD radio on Wed at 2:10 p.m. and the Hardline on Tu/Fri at 4:10 p.m. during the regular season.