The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were victorious this season with Tom Brady at the helm,
but was it worth having a crowd there?
This was one of the most interesting championships in the NFL in the past few years. Reason number one: we are currently in the midst of a global pandemic, and we allowed thousands of people to attend this game. Reason number two: Tom Brady became the most decorated footballer in the sport with seven Super Bowl rings.
On Feb.2, the Buccaneers stormed their way to victory over the Kansas City Chiefs at the Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. In a stadium that can hold up to 65,618 fans, the NFL only allowed in a third of the stadium’s capacity. Fans were socially distanced in the stands and wearing masks, but was it enough to keep a safe distance from others?
To my surprise, this super bowl had a record-low attendance. I know that most of the big NFL stadiums hold up to 70,000 people, and this low attendance number was crazy to learn about. In the crowd this year, there were 7,500 front-line healthcare workers from across the nation.
Leading up to the big game, many news outlets were sharing videos and images of what the city of Tampa looked like with fans arriving.
I saw almost nobody on the news with a mask on. There was absolutely no social distancing. The beaches, bars, streets, were all packed. It looked like how busy Tampa typically is when there is not a pandemic happening globally.
Every time the crowd was shown on screen during the game, all I saw were fans without masks on. This was also true for VIP clubhouses full of player’s families without masks on.
The mayor of Tampa, Jane Castor, set a mask mandate prior to the super bowl and thousands did not comply. People were not allowed to tailgate outside or anywhere close to the stadium.
Fans also ignored rules and signs that stated you must remain in your designated seating area. Once the Buccaneers scored their first touchdown, fans gathered to the front of the lower rows to celebrate.
The game itself was interesting. The Buccaneers scored early in the first quarter to establish a lead, and the Chiefs had a tough time scoring touchdowns during the last three quarters.
The Chiefs were close with some plays, but ultimately lost the game with holding calls. They could not advance the ball to the end line, and the Buccaneers made sure of that. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes faced a tough loss after winning last year’s championship.
The super bowl was indeed a “super-spreader” event. It was like Thanksgiving or the U.S. Capitol riots all over again. COVID-19 case numbers increased and not just in Tampa. Nationally, there was a significant increase in cases due to people hosting large gatherings.
Bars were filled, house parties raged on, and more people ended up sick. It was devastating to watch news reports a day later announcing COVID-19 numbers were increasing.
It was reported that Florida had 6,624 coronavirus cases that Sunday hours before kickoff. Florida’s case numbers have steadily increased since March of 2020, and this game did not help with slowing down transmission rates. The state is also seeing a new high in cases per seven-day period.
On Feb.10, the Buccaneers hosted a boat parade in Tampa to celebrate their win. Again, masks were hardly worn by anyone who got caught on camera. Anyone that went out on their own boats had to keep a distance of 50 feet from the team’s boats. Celebrations continued that night and the following days after the championship win.
What can we learn from holding a super bowl during a pandemic? If you want to have fans in attendance, kick them out if they are not following safety rules and protocols. Restrict travel ahead of time and set restaurant and bar capacity limits. Make sure that if you want to have a large crowd, keep it under 20,000 tickets and block off bleachers where fans should not go.
I think the NFL has learned their lesson about hosting one of the largest sporting events in the world during a pandemic. They had strict team rules and protocols for safety during the regular season in 2020 and were one of the best professional leagues to handle COVID-19 safely.
If there ever is another time that a global pandemic rages, sports should take a break. We need entertainment, but also need to keep people safe. Next time, they should not have a crowd – which was a smart move during the regular season.