The Columbus Crew plans to continue to allow fan attendance at upcoming games, including this Sunday’s regular-season finale against Atlanta United. Many fans continue to feel comfortable with that decision despite a recent rise in COVID-19 cases in the state of Ohio. According to those that responded to a social media question, the Crew’s safety efforts appear to be why.
Sunday’s game against Atlanta will be the seventh match with fans in attendance since the return to play after the MLS is Back Tournament in Orlando, starting with the team’s match against FC Cincinnati on Sept. 6th. The policies have been consistent. The Black & Gold aligned to the statewide limits of 1,500 people, or 7.5 percent of MAPFRE Stadium’s capacity and enhanced social distance protocols while shutting down nearly all indoor activity.
The team designed ticket sales to ensure social distancing. Tickets are distributed in small groups with separation between other groups. There has consistently been more than six, and often over 10, feet between these clusters.
Recent shifting in the nature of the pandemic underscores the challenge that the Crew faces in setting the team’s guidelines. The Black & Gold’s enhanced fan policies went into effect when the state averaged under 1,000 cases in early September. The state set three case records over 4,000 this week, including 5,008 new cases on Friday.
In a statement provided to Massive Report, a Crew spokesperson stated: “As we have stated before, we recognize that circumstances are fluid and as such, have designed plans to maximize flexibility and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances. We will continue to collaborate with public health experts, government officials and the MLS to make the return to the Stadium as safe as possible.”
Many Columbus fans said they feel the team planned successfully. Several recent attendees responded to a question posed on Twitter that they would continue to attend matches given the team’s enforcement of safety protocols and fans responsible behavior.
Emily Kegg responded: “Yes! They do a great job of enforcing all the health guidelines, fans did their part too.”
HeyHeyPaula echoed similar thoughts. “I would. But, I literally go straight to my seat, and stay there (un)til the end. We took our own water, not sure if that’s still allowed. We wore masks the entire time. And no one was close to us. I go literally no where... not the store, not a restaurant, but I am okay w(ith) Mapfre.“
FiretheCannon focused on the team’s adherence to the rules. “Yes. (The ushers) always say something about masks. I don’t think I’ve ever been within 10 feet of someone”.
Brent also highlighted the ushers’ role in maintaining a safer environment. “Mask enforcement every 10 minutes per ushers - extremely well done - will keep going”
Others noted that the nature of an outdoor activity, which is tied to reduced virus spread, raised their comfort level with attending games at MAPFRE Stadium.
Mathew Broz appreciated the fan behavior and the fresh air in his response. “Yes. Everyone was respectful of distance, and had a mask. I had way more space then I am given at the grocery store. And it is outside.”
Znorr shared similar thoughts. “100%. You’re sitting at least 6ft away from others, outdoors. Very safe”
While many respondents would continue to go to games, there were a few people that remain skeptical of attending events.
Jose Fdo Cuartas expressed concern around the coronavirus outweighs his desire to attend games. “Have not had the chance to go yet, I always go with my special beautiful daughter since day one, but are staying away from places during this COVID19 problem. Soon very soon ....”
Columbustillidie, a Nordecke ticket holder, echoed similar thoughts, “Nope. Still waiting. It’s worse now. Craziness”
Beyond Twitter, several people polled have attended games and noted that the team has increased focus on safety procedures through the season and that fans are increasingly wearing masks and respectful of social distancing.
The Crew spokesperson reiterated that the safety procedures rely on fans doing the right thing. “Supporters are reminded that while enjoying the match, when not actively eating or drinking, masks must remain on at all times. Experience Team ushers will be increasing the number of trips up and down the stands during match action, continuing to enforce this rule as it is critical to the success of hosting matches.”
Beyond the Crew, The NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns also host fans in Ohio. The Browns, co-owned by the Crew’s Haslam family, recently received a variance to expand attendance from 6,000 to 12,000 people in the 67,895 seat FirstEnergy Stadium. MLS rivals FC Cincinnati has not hosted fans since the return to play due to policies by the University of Cincinnati, where the club plays its home games.
While the team and fans are currently comfortable with the current arrangement, it’s not guaranteed to remain with the ever-changing level of virus activity. The current wave of COVID-19 cases in the United States follows a wave that overtook Europe in September and October that prompted government shutdowns of non-essential activities in countries across the continent. In the United Kingdom, this included any plans for fans to return to the games. A similar response by the state of Ohio would take the decision out of the Crew’s and fans’ hands.
While Sunday marks the final game of the MLS regular season, the Black & Gold hope to host at least one MLS Cup playoff game. Whether fans will be allowed, or will decide, to attend games is up in the air.