The New Orleans Saints announced today that the team will not host fans at the first home game this season (September 13 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers), due to the state of Covid-19 infections throughout the region.
Since the beginning of this crisis, the Saints have been working with a world-class team of medical experts and health and safety professionals from Ochsner Health (Ochsner), state and local authorities and the NFL to determine how, or if, we could safely host fans at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome this season. Our first priority is the health and safety of our fans, our employees, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome staff and all of the coaches and players. Working with Ochsner, our partners at ASM Global (managers of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome), the NFL and other experts in health and safety has resulted in a set of comprehensive health and safety guidelines and protocols, which would allow us to have fans attend our games. These standards meet, and in most cases exceed, the requirements established in the NFL's Prepare to Watch health and safety guidelines that were issued to all clubs as well as CDC requirements. Throughout this process, we have worked closely with our state and local officials to ensure our policies comply with all current health and safety regulations, including those of the CDC.
"Mrs. Benson has appointed an internal management team that oversees all elements of our business relative to our Covid-19 planning, protocols and responses," said New Orleans Saints President Dennis Lauscha. "Each morning she is briefed on the latest programs and plans and on our daily communication with ASM Global. Her overriding directive and priority is the health and safety of our fans, our employees, the Mercedes-Benz Superdome staff and all of the coaches and players."
This week, team officials met with health and safety experts, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards and City of New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell to share the comprehensive health and safety plan to allow fans to attend Saints home games. Discussed during the meeting were the key trends that would indicate how effectively we are combating Covid-19 such as the number of new positive cases confirmed, positivity rate of testing and the ability of our healthcare system to treat those infected. These are some of the primary indicators used by our state and local government in determining what activities are allowed during this pandemic.
Unfortunately, at this time, the trends across our state and region do not meet the standards of health and safety we have established with our healthcare and government partners to host fans in the stadium for the first home game. While state numbers are trending in the right direction, further mitigation of cases is needed and a reduced infection rate is required for the team to welcome back its fans. While there is a strong desire to see Saints fans back in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, local and state leadership are clear in their communications that significant improvement is required for that to occur. The team, along with health and safety experts, will continuously monitor trends to determine if fans will be able to attend the September 27 game vs. Green Bay. Although the current guidance we have received from our government leaders suggest this to be unlikely, we remain prepared to host fans if allowed.
The Saints, Governor Edwards and Mayor Cantrell have continually encouraged all residents of the Gulf South to exercise precautions such as wearing a mask in public, practicing responsible social distancing regularly and thoroughly washing hands. In addition, residents are urged to remain alert of any symptoms associated with Covid-19 and self-isolate when feeling sick or exhibiting symptoms. In addition, please seek medical assistance as soon as possible when warranted.
The Saints' third home game is on October 12 against the Los Angeles Chargers in a nationally televised Monday Night Football game at 7:15 p.m. Whether fans can attend that game, as well as others later in the season, will depend on the status of the trends listed above and the direction of local and state leaders.
"While we have put together a comprehensive plan that will allow us to safely host fans at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, that plan has always been dependent on how effectively we, as a community and region, are battling Covid-19," Lauscha said. "We have given this situation as much time as possible to see the type of improvement necessary to welcome fans into the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, but unfortunately, medical experts indicate that trends are not improving rapidly enough for us to begin the season with fan attendance. As we have noted, while we are not allowing fans in the first home game, we remain cautiously optimistic that fans may be able to attend our September 27 game vs. Green Bay, but stress that fans need to remain flexible and adaptable in case we cannot. We are keenly aware of the outstanding home field advantage that our fans provide our team, and we are as eager as anyone to welcome them back. We remain optimistic and committed to implementing responsible and safe measures for everyone that attends a Saints game. We are highly confident in our plans that safely welcome fans back into the building but are also reliant and dependent on seeing a marked improvement in our community wellness numbers. Ultimately, while that is a difficult decision to have to make, it is made with the number one goal of health and safety of our community and region. It will ultimately be the driving factor in getting our fans back into the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Our community and fan base have shown incredible strength and resilience when facing challenges throughout our history and know we can meet this new challenge, as well, if we bring that same sense of fight and determination in our battle against Covid-19. "
"I want to thank the New Orleans Saints for developing a comprehensive plan that is thoughtful and considerate of both the players and football fans as we continue to fight Covid-19 throughout our state," said Gov. John Bel Edwards. "There is nothing like seeing the Saints play in the Superdome, and I know anticipation is high for the season kickoff. However, when it comes to hosting sporting events for the faithful fans from New Orleans and throughout Louisiana, it is paramount that we make wise decisions that are in the best interest of everyone's health and safety. This is not easy for anyone, and I appreciate the care with which the team is undertaking this process. The Saints have been a great partner to the State of Louisiana, and I greatly appreciate their efforts to help all of us slow the spread of Covid-19."
"The City of New Orleans and all of our fans are ready for football season and to cheer on our Saints, but the safety of fans, players, and the many employees of the team and Superdome must come first," said Mayor LaToya Cantrell. "We are beginning to trend back in the right direction, but we are not where we need to be yet. As I have said from the beginning of our response to this pandemic, our decisions will be guided by data, and until we get to where we need to be, we will have to support the Saints from the sidelines at home."
In conjunction with the opening game taking place without fans, all associated publicly accessed areas at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome will be closed to the public and fans, including parking garages, Champions Square, the Saints' Hall of Fame and the Saints Team Shop. Season Ticket Holders will have the option to receive a credit or refund for any games played without fan attendance. If the Saints can host fans later in the season, Season Ticket Holders who have not opted out for the opportunity to purchase tickets this season will receive instructions about the ticket-purchasing process at a future date. Previously, the Saints announced that if fans can attend games at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the venue would only accommodate a reduced capacity crowd.
Lauscha added, "We must do everything within our power to improve the current trends not just so that we can attend games together, but so that our kids can go back to school safely, so that commerce and our economy can reopen and so that generations of Saints fans can attend games together safely. We believe in fighting for our fans and all of the economic benefits for our city. We need our community to put all of its considerable determination into fighting this virus, and hopefully, we will be celebrating a season-long return of fans to our games."
The Saints reiterate to their fans that NFL-required protocols are subject to change and can be updated on a game-by-game basis as conditions change, which includes the number of tickets available for each game. The Saints remain optimistic about having fans at the remaining games in the 2020 season and reiterate the team's desire to welcome back as many fans to the home of the Saints as possible. The team remains confident once infection rates are lower that our plan and protocols will create a safe environment for attending games.