In late February, a month after their facility had been transformed into a mass-Coronavirus vaccination site, the New England Patriots sent a letter to season ticket holders expressing optimism that fans will be allowed back at Gillette Stadium soon. And not just that: the organization was “hopeful that we will be able to do so at full capacity.”
While decisions about capacity and Covid-19 regulations will ultimately have to be made by state and local legislature, Patriots team president Jonathan Kraft reiterated those thoughts during a recent appearance at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference last week. He too is confident that New England will be able to welcome a full 65,878 spectators at one point during the upcoming NFL season.
“Once vaccines have been available in a community for a long enough period of time where anyone who’s wanted one could’ve gotten it and reached two weeks past their second shot ... then I don’t know why you shouldn’t be at full capacity,” Kraft said, via Michael Silverman of the Boston Globe.
“It’s sort of intellectually dishonest to say we’re going to be at a quarter percent of capacity even though theoretically you have herd immunity in the local population. At some point you have to get back to living your lives.”
While Kraft himself is no medical professional, he has close ties to one of the premier medical institutions in the United States. The 57-year-old is serving as chairman of the Board of Trustees at Massachusetts General Hospital, and as such closer linked to the fight against the Coronavirus pandemic than other people in his position within the NFL.
Kraft noted that the vaccination progress since late January as well as the timeline until the start of the season all work in the Patriots’ and the league’s favor.
“As President Biden said, April 19, [the vaccine will be] available to everybody in America. Clearly, there’s a backlog so let’s say anybody who really wants it will have it by June 1 or June 15 — we’re still months out from the start of the NFL season,” he said.
Last month, large sports venues in Massachusetts such as the Patriots’ Gillette Stadium were reopened at a reduced capacity of 12 percent. While that means other sports leagues will likely not see full crowds until next season, the NFL, which traditionally starts its preseason in August and its regular season in early September, appears to be in a good spot if no setbacks such as new virus variants or insufficient vaccination progress occur.
As of mid-April, however, the Commonwealth and the rest of the country are in encouraging shape. In Massachusetts alone, almost 4.6 million vaccine doses have been administered already — more than 350,000 at Gillette Stadium alone. A quarter of the state’s population is already full vaccinated.
That said, the Patriots are seeing vaccination as only one piece of the reopening puzzle. As they announced in February, they have made updates to the game-day experience in order to allow fans to return to a safe environment:
[T]he events of the last year have challenged us to rethink various elements of our game day operations. We have made several changes to the fan experience at Gillette Stadium in order to prioritize health, including a permanent move to mobile ticketing and the implementation of cashless payments across all concessions and merchandise locations inside the stadium.
When fans will get to experience those changes and if full capacity really is a realistic goal to begin with remains to be seen. The Patriots and their leadership remain confident, however.