MIAMI - The Miami Dolphins will allow up to 13,000 socially distancing fans to attend their home opener against Buffalo on Sept. 20, a decision that divided political leaders and upset Bills coach Sean McDermott.
The same plan will be followed for the University of Miami's home opener against UAB at the Dolphins' stadium on Sept. 10.
Crowd size will be about 20% of the stadium's 65,326-seat capacity, with the limitation imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Groups of spectators will be spaced 6 feet apart.
Fifteen of the NFL's 32 teams have ruled out spectators for the start of the season. The Dolphins are one of at least eight teams hoping to have a limited number of spectators, and many teams haven't announced plans.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez were scheduled to attend a news conference Monday at the Dolphins' stadium to discuss the team's plan, which they approved.
South Florida remains a hot spot for the virus, and not all reaction to the Dolphins' plan was favorable. U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala, who served as the secretary of health and human services during the Clinton administration, expressed concern about the safety of those attending games.
“It is very difficult to open anything when you have community spread,” said Shalala, former president at the University of Miami. “We still have community spread in South Florida. So the kinds of precautions that need to be taken are extraordinary, and I think it’s going to be very difficult to do. ... There is no question that it’s risky."
McDermott wasn't happy that some NFL teams will have fans and others won't. As of now, the Bills don't plan to allow spectators at their home games.
“I think it’s honestly ridiculous that there will be on the surface what appears to be a playing field that’s like that, inconsistently across the league with the different away stadiums,” McDermott said.
According to the Dolphins' 46-page plan for crowds, fans and stadium employees will be required to wear masks when not eating or drinking. Tailgating will be prohibited.
There will be staggered gate entry, with fans encouraged to enter at a designated time listed on game tickets. The stadium will provide additional points of entry and exit to help avoid bottlenecks, and upgraded metal detectors will allow for faster processing. New bathroom faucets, toilets and soap and paper towel dispensers will require no contact.
Season ticket holders will have first priority to purchase tickets based on their tenure.
“When we started the process back in March of exploring what a socially distanced stadium could look like, we made the health and safety of everyone the first priority, knowing that if we felt that we couldn’t make it safe, we simply wouldn’t have fans,” Dolphins vice chairman and CEO Tom Garfinkel said in a statement.
“We’re happy that our elected officials recognize the attention to detail and diligence that we’ve put into creating a safe environment, and that they made the decision to move forward with a 13,000-capacity stadium at this time.”
Associated Press Writer Bobby Calvin in Tallahassee, Florida and freelancer Mark Ludwiczak in Buffalo, New York contributed to this report.