ORLANDO, Fla. – Orlando City announced fans will be allowed at three upcoming games at Exploria Stadium at reduced capacity for phase one of continuation of play for Major League Soccer.
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said only 20% of the stadium’s capacity will be permitted into games and those fans will be season ticket holders. He estimated it would be about 6,000 fans.
The matches will be the first to have fans in-person since the pandemic caused cancellations across all major league sports.
The team said it will be taking other precautions, including social distancing, required masks, temperatures being taken at the front gates, no bags allowed, no fan/player interaction and increased cleaning, which includes power washing the seats.
Dyer said season ticket holders who have been receiving information on what they needed to do and what was expected of them on game day.
The team worked with Orlando health to approve the plan along with Orlando police and fire departments, according to Dyer.
The team posted a video showcasing the efforts.
The move comes just more than a week after Dr. Raul Pino with the Florida Department of Health in Orange County and Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings both expressed concern about a possible return to the field at Exploria.
“I don’t believe that now is the time to relax any of those restrictions,” Demings said when asked about Orlando City Soccer at his weekly press briefing on Aug. 10.
A day after the Orlando City announcement Demings again expressed concerns.
“I’m going to be cautiously optimistic. I think is risky,” Deming said on Aug. 20, adding he does not have the local authority to stop it from happening.
Some business owners near the stadium said they were concerned the return of fans may increase the risk of coronavirus transmission.
“If they drink too much, which is the problem, they aren’t cognizant of what’s going on,” said Steven Watkins, owner of Stonewall Bar, located next door to the stadium.
His establishment remains open as it’s also serving food, and he limits the capacity to 50 percent inside, although he said he’s never reached capacity.
“I don’t want to cause any harm or any sickness to anybody -- even if you recover,” he said. “I don’t want to be the person who caused it. It’s not worth the chance. I’d rather be alive and poor.”
There will be no tailgating and no march to the stadium, typical pre-game activities for Orlando City fans, according to Dyer.
Here are the three home games Orlando City will play with fans having the opportunity to watch in-person:
- vs. Nashville at 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 26
- vs. Atlanta at 8 p.m. on Sept. 5
- vs. Inter Miami at 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 12
The sale date for tickets has not been announced.
This will not be the first sport in the U.S. to allow fans at events during the pandemic.
Fans have been allowed to attend races for the NASCAR Cup Series at the Daytona International Speedway, attendees are spaced out at the events.