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Empower Field at Mile High Stadium. (Unsplash photo)

Gov. Jared Polis announced Tuesday that Colorado will allow fans to attend Broncos games in person starting on Sept. 27 when the NFL team takes on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Empower Field at Mile High Stadium.

“We all know it’s just not the same if they are playing to an empty stadium,” Polis said, wearing an orange tie and donning a Broncos mask.

Polis said 5,700 paying fans will be allowed to attend the Sept. 27 game, most of them season ticket holders.


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Polis made the announcement Tuesday at a news conference at the governor’s mansion in downtown Denver. He was joined by Brittany Bowlen, the Broncos’ vice president of strategic initiatives.

The move marks one of the significant unwinding of coronavirus restrictions in Colorado since the pandemic reached the state in early March. Polis said it is a major step in the return to normalcy.

“Today’s announcement would not be possible without … the hard work that our entire community has put into place,” Bowlen said.

Bowlen said seating will be done in small pods and seating will be broken into groups. She said fans should expect Empower Field to look a lot different this season.

Here’s how it will work, according to Bowlen:

  • There will be mask-wearing requirements, as well as social distancing guidelines in place
  • A maximum of six people will be allowed per seating pod
  • Pods will be separated by at least six feet
  • Sections will be separated as well, with fans encouraged to use the concessions and restrooms closest to their seating area
  • Concessions and restrooms will be “touchless and cashless”

“Season-ticket members will be entered into a lottery,” Bowlen said. “It will be based on their priority number, or weighted by their priority number. … Details will be shared with our season-ticket members.”

A small percentage of tickets will be sold at half-price to non-season-ticket holders.

Gov. Jared Polis, right, speaks to reporters alongside Brittany Bowlen, the Broncos’ vice president of strategic initiatives, on Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2020. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Polis said there will be an opportunity to examine whether additional fans can attend Broncos games in the coming weeks.

Polis said he hopes the return of fans at Broncos games will provide a model for not only other professional sports teams in Colorado, but for other large events.

Only a handful of NFL teams and the cities they play in are allowing fans to attend games in person as the season opens on Thursday.

The Kansas City Chiefs are planning to play before 16,000 fans, about 30% of Arrowhead Stadium’s capacity, at their first 2020–21 season game. A week later, the Cleveland Browns are set to play the Cincinnati Bengals in front of 6,000 fans, about 10% of their stadium’s capacity. 

The Dallas Cowboys, Indianapolis Colt and Miami Dolphins are also planning to host fans at their stadiums when the season begins.

Polis rejected the idea that the state was playing favorites by allowing the Broncos to welcome back fans while other large venues and events are still waiting to resume operations. Colorado only allows events of up to 175 people right now.

“The Broncos are beloved, but frankly they are playing by the same rules here as every other type of large event,” Polis said.

Bowlen said it took three months to come up with plans to allow fans to safely watch games at Mile High Stadium. That process included construction work building upgrades.

Polis said high school football may return in fall; CHSAA declines

Polis on Tuesday also said it’s possible high school football may return in the fall.

He said he’s told the Colorado High School Activities Association they can submit a plan for resuming high school football in the coming weeks. Polis said he recognizes all school districts may not be ready as they focus on the return of in-person learning, but that he’s excited about the possibility of allowing games to resume.

“If there’s schools and districts that are ready to move forward will fall football and can implement that quickly, we want to encourage CHSAA to run with that,” Polis said.

On Wednesday, however, CHSAA’s board of directors opted not to move forward with pursuing a fall high school football season.

“We are focused on getting school started and running smoothly, as well as handling all the issues of running a school district and trying to have that be as normal as possible,” Richard Hargrove, the superintendent of Springfield Schools and a member of the board of directors, said in a written statement. “We do not want to travel. The biggest thing for me in the end is that we have continued to move the goalposts, and every time we turned around, we had something else we had to adjust to.”

Updated on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020, at 11:19 a.m.: This story has been updated to reflect that CHSAA has opted not to move forward with pursuing a fall high school football season.

Jesse Paul is a Denver-based political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is the author of The Unaffiliated newsletter and also occasionally fills in on breaking news coverage....