(Photo by Michael Heiman/Getty Images)
As expected, the NFL owners approved a 17-game schedule today at the virtual owners meetings. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell also spoke with the media today and said he expects stadiums to be filled this year after there was a limited capacity allowed at NFL venues last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A handful of teams didn't host fans at all in 2020 due to the pandemic, as it was a state-by-state decision.
"All of us in the NFL want to see every one of our fans back. Football is simply not the same without fans, and we expect to have full stadiums in the upcoming season," Goodell said.
With more people getting vaccinated and distributions happening daily, things look to be turning the corner in regards to the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic. Experts believe that the United States can return to "normal" by this fall or winter. President Joe Biden announced a few weeks ago that he would direct states to make all Americans eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine by May 1.
Team president Art Rooney II had a conference call with fans on Steelers Nation Unite last week and was asked whether fans will be allowed at Heinz Field in full capacity this season. While it's only late March, Rooney is optimistic that Steeler Nation will be allowed at Heinz Field like usual in 2021.
"I am kind of optimistic about it," Rooney said. "It's still early, it's only March, so we'll see how things go. I am optimistic we will have fans. Frankly I am optimistic we will have a full stadium by this fall. Hopefully everybody is out there getting the vaccine and is going to be able to get in crowds and things like that again. Hopefully we are going to be back to pretty close to normal by the fall. Let's all say our prayers and keep our fingers crossed. But I am optimistic about it at this point."
The Steelers hosted just three games in 2020 with fans and the limit was 7,500 total in the stadium. Rooney also sees the Steelers hosting training camp at Saint Vincent college this summer, which didn't happen last year for the first time since 1965 because of the pandemic.
"That is the plan," Rooney said of a return to Saint Vincent College. "We are hoping things get back to normal this fall. Obviously training camp happens a little earlier than that. It's something we are planning for now, but we will see how things go. We need this virus to turn the corner. We still want to make sure that fans are safe when they come to Saint Vincent. We may have to look at if we have to limit the number of fans. We'll be looking at all of those issues. Right now our goal and our plan is to have training camp at Saint Vincent this summer."
Goodell and Rooney are expecting and hoping that stadiums will be packed this year as usual, but it will ultimately depend on how the virus is controlled by the fall and vaccination rates, as the NFL will need every municipality that hosts a team to agree to attendance plans to fully open up their stadiums for 2021.