By Jessie Tobin
With the 2020 National Football League (NFL) season kicking off on the night of Thursday, Sept. 10, fans watching from home may notice that they are not the only ones missing in the stadiums. In the midst of the pandemic, the NFL will be adding new protocols that will limit the amount of people allowed on the sidelines. Along with some smaller rules that are intended to help reduce the chances of the coronavirus being spread.
The NFL and NFL Referee Association decided that anyone who is considered non-essential will not be allowed onto the field, this includes cheerleaders, mascots, and some reporters. Though, this does reduce the amount of people possibly spreading or being exposed to the virus. It also means that many people employed by the league must find ways to adjust to the changes.
“No doubt, this whole season will be different as it has the last six months, but we think the energy is there,” said Peter O’Reilly, the NFL’s Executive Vice President for Club Business and League Events in a Fox 9 News interview.
Some teams may turn to alternative forms of media to get their entertainment and fan base more involved. The San Francisco 49er’s for example, will host a Pre-Game Live that will air for all 16 regular season games and will be located at Levi’s® Stadium before every home game. Gold Rush Cheerleaders, will now be able to perform for 49er fans before the games begin rather than on the field.
“Look, it’s smart, the league is doing everything it can to reduce the opportunities that someone is going to walk into the stadium with the virus, shedding the virus, and sparking an outbreak,” said Mike Florio, a sports writer and radio host for NBC Sports on his podcast ProFootballTalk. “I know there’s going to be people that are upset about it, but for the most part, football is still football. And if the league is doing what it can to ensure that there won’t be an outbreak and the full football season can be played, I got no problem with it at all.”
Similarly to cheerleaders and mascots, no local, network or national reporters will have their normal spots on the field. Depending on the stadium and network they are covering, reporters will either be placed in the first row of the stands in an area production crews will call “the moat” or watch from home like everyone else.
“My role is going to be hugely different in that I’m not allowed on the field,” Michele Tafoya, a sideline reporter for NBC, said on a recent conference call with the StarTribute. She added being off the field is going to provide a lot of challenges, but she is eager to see how it all works out. “I’m bringing binoculars to the game for the first time in my career. I want to be able to see things up close like I usually can.”
Another question reporters have is whether or not there will be halftime and post game interviews with players and coaches. According to Sports Business Daily, NBC is still working out it’s halftime and postgame interview plans. Reporters like Tafoya, may be able to conduct interviews over the phone with coaches or meet in the stands for a socially distanced interview.
“My initial reaction to the change was how am I supposed to do my job?” said Lisa Salters, a longtime sideline reporter, in an ABC News 11 interview. Salters talked about how she will now have to think outside the box and report in ways she hadn’t had to before. “It’s definitely going to be unique, and it’s definitely going to be a challenge.”
According to an ESPN article written by Kevin Seifert, some of the smaller changes being added to game time protocols include home and away teams having to stay six-feet apart after games, avoiding handshakes and jersey exchanges. Plus, to limit the possible spread of virus droplets, referees will no longer have whistles but rather a handheld push button whistle.
Teams, fans, and reporters will start to adjust to the new “normal” as the season progresses. The energy surrounding the live game will definitely not be the same without cheerleaders and mascots on the sidelines. But hopefully these new protocols set in place will ensure a safe and lasting football season.