Jerry Jones won't announce participation in the Dallas Cowboys' home game until the crowd is announced at AT&T Stadium later this month.
The owner of the Cowboys is also hoping the 80,000-seat and standing-room venue, which increases capacity to over 90,000, will be closer to full as the pandemic-changed NFL season progresses.
All of this means that the league's clubs are preparing for a rapidly changing environment while accepting the basic premise that playing games with a limited number or no fans will affect revenue in 2020.
"You think about the lost revenue these teams have all along the line with no fans in the building," said Bill Rhoda, president of global planning for Legends, a stadium operations company owned by the Cowboys and New York Yankees.
“And it goes from tickets to concessions, goods to games and the lack of private suites, which then affects the sponsorships. So there is a trickle down effect this virus had on the entire industry. "
Details are difficult to come by because clubs do not disclose or discuss them. According to Forbes magazine estimates from 2018, the cowboys pulled about two-thirds of their $ 950 million revenue from the stadium.
While America's team scores one of the biggest hits in stadium revenue even with fans in attendance while other teams don't let it, the cowboys are also a symbol of the NFL in general – they should be fine in the long run.
"The NFL is a juggernaut," said David Steinberg, co-founder of Zeta Global, a data-driven marketing technology company. "Except maybe the European (football) there is no other league like this in the world." So I think they won't just survive this. I think they will thrive in it. "
The Green Bay Packers provide the only insight into the NFL's finances as a public team. Even if there are no fans for the entire season, the Packers can cover player expenses with national revenue, according to CEO Mark Murphy, highlighted by media rights. This is roughly two thirds of the club's total revenue. Murphy also says the packers have about $ 400 million in reserve.
Most of the league's 32 teams will start the season without fans. Both Los Angeles teams have announced plans to follow the model started by Korean baseball and borrowed from Major League Baseball – fan clippings on the seats when the new SoFi stadium opens. The proceeds go to charity.
The league allows teams to sell sponsorships on tarpaulins that cover seats in the lower bowl between the 30-yard lines and are limited to 16 seats. The end zone plans are reserved for sponsors of both the club and the league.
"Creative thinking will win here," said Mark Reino, CEO of Merit Mile, an advertising, public relations, and sports marketing agency based in Boca Raton, Florida. "Maybe it's a little cheeky, sometimes those cheeky ideas really win when it comes to maintaining loyalty."
While there is a debate about an on-field advantage for teams that allows fans, Steinberg believes that this could also be beneficial for sponsors. He thought it likely that clubs would give sponsors more access to tickets, noting that sponsors at the stadium, who might be affected by fewer eyeballs on signage, were often local advertisers.
"People don't know how much of the local advertising is being driven by bundling," Steinberg said. "You can buy your ad package and then throw it in the skybox."
Rhoda said many venues created as many touchless interactions as possible even before the pandemic, and a new one at the AT&T Stadium is likely to be permanent: cashless transactions for concessions and goods. The security setup can also be changed permanently.
While the league appears well-positioned to survive a year without fans, the people who serve them will feel the impact more, sports advisor Marc Ganis said.
"Concessions and merchandising, ushers, janitors, union and non-union workers – not people with high incomes, but people in need of that money," said Ganis, co-founder of Chicago-based advisory group Sportscorp and confidant of many NFL owners. "This is really going to be damaged."
Texas Governor Greg Abbott allows venues to fill 50% of capacity, and the design of the $ 1.2 billion Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, halfway between Dallas and Fort Worth, makes it difficult to figure it out to determine. Jones will say so much; The club estimates that up to 3,000 people will be employed when they visit Atlanta on September 20. The Falcons are among the teams that will not allow fans until at least September.
"We'll be sure to follow all the guidelines and we're so happy to have the space and have the openness and charisma that we have out there and that gives us a lot of flexibility," said Jones. "We expect a lot."
Whether that crowd is growing fits questions like what the league will do if a COVID-19 outbreak occurs within a team or if there is a major outbreak across the country in the fall, experts have warned. It's difficult to say.
"I think if you look back on the last couple of months, the thing that has been consistent across the board is that new things keep popping up," Rhoda said. "Where we thought we were three weeks ago is different from today."
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