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Report: Falcons will be able to set game attendance based on local coronavirus rules

The NFL will let each team figure it out, an idea which has been stunningly unsuccessful in the fight against the coronavirus.

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NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at Atlanta Falcons Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

So much has changed with the coronavirus pandemic since the spread hit the United States early in March, but even with July creeping up quickly, very little has changed since then. The NFL has been tight-lipped about their plans throughout the process, first stating the coronavirus will not impact the NFL season, followed by floating out some ideas that would still allow the season to move forward with as limited change as possible.

We widely expected the NFL to push through with the season one way or another. Ultimately, the team owners and players want to get paid. The season will happen due to that fact, but the bigger question is how to make that happen while keeping things safe. The biggest hurdle is and has been fan attendance. Some communities are now requiring people in public to wear masks and are limiting the number of people who can congregate due to some major spikes in new infections.

Daniel Kaplan of The Athletic is the first to report on the NFL’s plan, and it is to follow the inconsistent guidelines in each game location. The same evolving guidelines that have caused spikes across the nation.

The league communicated to clubs that they follow local health COVID-19 guidelines on social distancing rules, which vary greatly state to state and are not always, arguably, in line with the trend line of local coronavirus cases. In other words, as of now, the NFL will not dictate capacity thresholds no matter the virus penetration on the ground.

For the Falcons, this will mean following state and local guidelines as of the game time. From an outsider’s view, this does not seem to make a lot of sense.

First, these guidelines appear to change regularly. The Falcons could play in front of fans one week in Atlanta, no fans while traveling elsewhere, then come back to a different situation in Atlanta. I am not sure how fans are able to plan attending games when those requirements could change quickly.

Second, if guidelines allow, say, 10,000 fans in a game, who gets those tickets? It would be inconceivable the Falcons would be allowed to have enough fans to cover season ticket holders. The team would need to run a lottery to see who gets tickets... assuming the guidelines don’t change.

Kaplan’s source was unhappy with the situation as is.

“I wish they would push back the start of the year to October to give us more time to learn from these other leagues.”

Kaplan notes the league brings in around $3 billion from ticket sales, which when I last checked, is more than enough money for the league to shrug their shoulders and put the responsibility on states, cities, and counties. You will find no mention of the NFL referring to health experts to find out if and how to safely put fans into existing stadiums.

The article raises a number of additional concerns, but it seems the NFL is ready to steamroll right through any of those considerations to get as much of that potential $3 billion.

What will this mean for the Falcons? Georgia is currently dealing with a massive spike in coronavirus, with many counties seeing record numbers. While the state has relaxed precautions, we may see local guidelines tightened in response to the growing numbers. It is unclear if Arthur Blank may consider taking a mulligan on fans this year.