NFL teams could cover seating around field with ads to make up lost revenue

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The NFL and its franchises are discussing a plan by which rows of seating closest to the field in stadiums this season could be covered and used to display the logos of sponsors and messaging for league and team initiatives.

The prospective measure is to be discussed by team owners when they meet Thursday by video conference, according to a person familiar with the deliberations. The plan could be put into effect if teams are prohibited from having their stadiums filled with fans by state and local restrictions related to the novel coronavirus pandemic, according to that person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the NFL has not yet publicized the measure.

The plan would represent a health and safety measure that would create additional distance between fans in the stands and the players, coaches and other personnel on the field. It also could give teams the opportunity to generate revenue from sponsors that would partially offset those lost from fans not being in attendance.

The NFL Players Association recently told agents that it estimates the league would lose about $3 billion in revenue this season if there are no fans at any games. NFL officials have said they’re hopeful of having fans at games this season, under strict health protocols. But the league also faces the prospect of complying with restrictions that could vary from state to state and even from county to county. That means different teams could face different limitations on fans.

The plan for using the rows of seating closest to the field for sponsor logos was first reported by the Sports Business Journal, which said that six to eight rows of seating in each stadium could be affected and likened the measure to steps taken by Premier League soccer teams.

The owners are to be updated during Thursday’s video conference on planning for the 2020 season. Allen Sills, the NFL’s chief medical officer, said last week he remains optimistic that the league can begin the season on time and play it to its completion under coronavirus-related protocols being developed with the NFLPA. That came after Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that “football may not happen this year” unless players are isolated in a “bubble” environment. The NFL season is scheduled to begin Sept. 10.

Most teams are scheduled to report to training camps July 28. An earlier opening of training camps, allowing players to ease into full-speed on-field activities, and a shortening of the preseason from four to two games per team, have been contemplated, a person familiar with the NFL’s planning said recently. But the NFLPA would have to agree to an earlier opening of camps. The NFL already has told all teams to hold training camps at their regular season training facilities and has prohibited teams from conducting joint practices during training camp.

The league has given teams the protocols for the players’ eventual return to teams’ facilities. But the NFL and NFLPA continue to deliberate over details related to coronavirus testing and treatment. The NFLPA told agents that it expects players to be tested about three times per week.

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