Dave Jenkins and Greg Rush felt thrilled when they received the final word from Ohio Governor Mike DeWine on fan attendance for the first two games at FirstEnergy Stadium this season.
Jenkins, the Browns Executive Vice President/Chief Operating Officer, and Rush, Vice President of Finance and Administration, had spent countless hours over the summer creating a plan with social distancing and safety protocols to combat the spread of COVID-19 and make the stadium safe if a limited number of fans could attend games. They knew Browns fans would show up if the stadium was suitable, and they needed final approval from DeWine to make it happen.
They received his answer and announced the news on Sept. 5: Yes. The plans were cleared, and approximately 10 percent of FirstEnergy Stadium can be filled Thursday night against the Cincinnati Bengals and Sept. 27 against the Washington Football Team.
"It's been a long summer, but it's exciting that it's finally here," Jenkins said Tuesday in a video call with local reporters. "Our organization has really tried to remain focused on the priorities we set early on, which is 1. The health and safety of our players, employees and fans. 2. Ensurinhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VRtoo5PiXnU&tg our football function has everything it needs. The resources, facilities and environment to execute. And lastly, ensuring our facilities — both our practice facility and FirstEnergy Stadium — are clean environments for our players, employees and fans to come to.
"We're excited to be hosting fans, even in limited numbers. They're so important for the gameday experience in creating a home field advantage."
For the roughly 6,000 people who do attend, however, following the gameday procedures and fan protocols will be imperative for the Browns to continue to allow fan attendance in 2020. Fans must adhere to social distancing guidelines, proper mask usage and other protocols in place to keep everyone safe.
The variance from the State of Ohio's sports orders states that no more than 1,500 fans will be allowed in each quarter of the seating bowl at FirstEnergy Stadium, which will also contain four primary entrances for fan arrival based on the seat location.
- Upon arriving at the stadium, everyone in attendance must adhere to the seven principles of the Responsible Restart Plan:
- Physical separation of at least six feet of social distancing
- Requirement of masks or other face coverings for all individuals (age 10+)
- Health screening, including via a Fan Health Promise that requires pre-event self-health screenings for all fans, and on-site temperature checks and health questionnaires for all staff
- Enhanced cleaning and disinfecting protocols throughout the venue
- Comprehensive hygiene protocols for all fans and staff
- Extensive training, signage and communication
- Accountability, flexibility and compliance protocols to provide oversight and adapt to evolving circumstance
"Compliance is key," Jenkins said. "We have to execute as an organization, and our fans also have a responsibility and role to play, and that's to adhere to the requirement of the plan. Wear the mask. Properly social distance. Don't come if you're exhibiting symptoms. If you're not willing or able to comply with those elements, then don't attend."
Fans will also find numerous changes to concourse concessions. Plexiglass has been added to all concessions for safe experiences between employees and cashiers, and stickers are located throughout waiting spaces to encourage six feet of social distancing. The stadium has also transitioned to a cashless environment, and cash will no longer be accepted at any sales locations. Condiments and silverware for food will also be pre-packaged.
Masks and face coverings will be crucial for everyone in and around the stadium as well, and full compliance is key in ensuring fans can continue to come to games at FirstEnergy Stadium this season.
"We all play a key role in this," said Rush, who is the Browns' Gameday Infections Control Officer. "We're going to hold ourselves accountable. We have certain auditing we have to do internally. The NFL is going to be here making sure we follow our plans accordingly. We can't emphasize enough: If you don't want to wear your facemasks, don't come. We're taking it very seriously, and that training is as such to our partners and internal staff."
Roughly 6,000 fans at home games is significantly better than no fans, and everyone in attendance must do their part to keep the environment safe.
That's priority No. 1. The next mission for fans, of course, is to be loud and have fun when the Browns are on the field.
If everyone is safe and follows protocols, then that special Cleveland home-field advantage won't go away anytime soon.
"We're really excited to have fans there, even if it's only 6,000," Jenkins said. "Our fans really do create a home-field advantage, and our players have been outspoken about how they feed off our fans. Let's make 6,000 fans sound like 60,000."