There’ve been a bunch of small news items about plans for allowing fans to return to live sporting events — here’s an article on Britain considering allowing fans back into soccer matches, for example, and here’s one on the Carolina Panthers receiving special permission to host a couple thousand fans more than the legal limit because they asked nicely or something — but then Jerry Jones, as Jerry Jones will do, parachuted into the conversation and made it all about him and the crazy things coming out of his mouth.
The 78-year-old billionaire Dallas Cowboys owner has his own radio show, because of course he does, and yesterday he used it to say a whole lot about allowing more fans in the stands even while putting team coaches in a bubble after a player testing positive:
“I see a continued aggressive approach to having fans out there.”
“Aggressive” is the word for Jones’ approach to attendance this season: After five home games, the Cowboys are averaging just over 25,000 fans per game, by far the highest number in the NFL and about a fifth of the entire league’s attendance so far this season. (Jones called it “almost a third of the attendance in the NFL, the whole NFL in our games” and added, “I’m proud of that.”) Here’s what it looked like last week against the Steelers, with 31,700 fans in attendance:
There appear to be a decent number of empty seats between fan groups (though here it looks like fans were closer together on the field level), but also four of the five fans visible in the shot aren’t wearing their masks, which isn’t great. Especially with record-breaking levels of Covid cases in the state, is that something to be concerned about, Jerry?
“That’s not being insensitive to the fact that we’ve got COVID, an outbreak, some people say, ‘well maybe it is,’” said Jones. “No, not when you’re doing it as safe as we are and not when you’re having the results we’re having. We’ve had literally, literally we’ve had no one report that they’ve had contact and gotten any contact with COVID from coming to our football games; no one.”
According to the NFL, there haven’t been any reported cases of coronavirus transmission via Cowboys games or any games at all, with league spokesperson Brian McCarthy saying this week, “No local case clusters have been reported traced back to NFL games.” That’s tentatively good news, but also fairly inconclusive given that it takes a large number of cases before epidemiologists can spot a virus-spreading event, especially with contact tracers in Texas often not bothering to call people who’ve tested positive. The vast majority of superspreading events so far have been in indoor spaces, but it’s worth noting that one of the outliers is that Milan soccer match in February that infected a staggering 7,000 people. (Jones bragged that “our stadium is particularly suited for airiness, openness, air circulation,” though its roof has been closed three games out of five so far this year. Also, a whole lot of attending football games involves sharing spaces indoors.)
“Don’t let your guard down because tomorrow all of that could change,” Jones said. “And that’s a fact. Don’t let me think for one second we’ve got the key to how to not have this COVID outbreak. We don’t. But the things we’re doing are working here.”
“Working” is more than a bit of an overstatement, but it’s fair to say that Jones has been able to inch up in-person attendance week by week without catastrophe. That’s been pretty much the NFL’s entire approach to playing football amid the pandemic, and it’s a strategy that by design works fine until it suddenly does not. Right now the Cowboys and the league as a whole are playing Russian roulette, while soaring Covid case rates are putting more and more bullets into the chambers; with the season more than halfway over, there’s a chance that they make it through without sparking a major outbreak, but also a chance that some future game becomes Sturgis 2.0. The most important thing, Jerry Jones wants you to know, is to not let your guard down, but also not keep too many fans from sitting near each other at football games, because the price of liberty is eternal vigilance so long as it doesn’t interfere too much with selling tickets.