BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — There's a renewed glimmer of hope that Bills fans could be back in the stands this season.
During a conference call on Wednesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo said he is eager to work out the situation, adding that he will be touring the stadium with team leadership to learn more about the organization's plans. No date has been announced for this tour. A major concern is how to get fans safely in and out of the stadium while maintaining social distancing requirements.
During Wednesday's call, Governor Cuomo also pointed to Western New York's current COVID-19 infection rate as a potential hurdle for allowing fans to return for home games. According to Cuomo, the current infection rate for the region is 1.1%
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz was asked about the topic during the county’s COVID news briefing at the Rath Building Wednesday afternoon.
Poloncarz told reporters he is pleased Governor Cuomo will be visiting Orchard Park.
“It’s totally in the state’s hands at this point — I’m glad to see the governor is proactive about this and is willing to come and take look at the facility,” Poloncarz remarked.
But Cuomo hasn't said when he's coming to Orchard Park.
Poloncarz says the proposed plan would allow 7,000 Bills fans into the safely back into the stadium for the next home game against the Chiefs on October 15. That’s roughly 10% of the stadium's 72,000-fan capacity.
But Poloncarz says the plan must have a time entry and exit.
“Because there are multiple gates, you would be assigned a gate. And you would be assigned that you have to come into that gate — at let's use a 1:00 game on Sunday as an example — at 12:15. Even if you normally would not walk in until 12:50, you have to come in at that time,” explained Poloncarz.
But the county executive stressed if the fans are allowed to attend, there would be no tailgating and if private lots were allowed to open, those lots would be for parking only.
“We believe we could approve and Orchard Park could approve allowing private lot operators to provide parking — but that’s it,” Poloncarz said.
Poloncarz says if there is a game October 15, and fans are allowed to attend, that a decision would need to be made quickly.
“We need to have an answer by the end of this week — one way or another,” declared Poloncarz.
Poloncarz said the county and Bills would need enough time to get everything in place, like a sheriff's office and health department detail.
“Because they have to sell tickets. Identify who has the first right to purchase the tickets hire concessionaires, hire security,” Poloncarz said.
On Tuesday, the Buffalo Bills released an updated statement after several reports emerged on the possibility of fans being allowed at home games this season.
In a tweet, the Bills wrote, "We’re still working hard to be ready when we can welcome the best fans in the world back to Bills Stadium. Hope to see you soon, #BillsMafia."
In a statement, the team said, "As of today, there has been no change to those protocols and fans will not be able to attend home Bills games for the foreseeable future."
7 Eyewitness News confirmed on September 21, following the Buffalo Bills win over the Miami Dolphins in Florida, team officials examined how the Dolphins "planned and executed" having fans in the stands at Hard Rock Stadium as a model for Orchard Park.
The Dolphins had 13,000 seats available for fans, and according to Peter King of Pro Football Talk, only 11,075 seats were purchased.
Hard Rock Stadium made many changes to allow fans into the stadium including:
- Mask requirements for anyone over 2-years-old
- No tailgating
- Assigned gate entry with timed entry
- New metal detectors
- Elimination of cash at concession stands
Although no fans were allowed inside Bills Stadium during the game Sunday in Orchard Park against the Los Angeles Rams, screens showed signs asking for social distancing and having parties stay together.
Poloncarz said Monday he had a call with key stakeholders Tuesday to discuss allowing fans in the stands for the next Bills home game.