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The Buffalo Bills, under New York State mandate, played their first two home games without fans. However, there has been some momentum to allow fans for the Bills’ next home game, October 15, against the Kansas City Chiefs.
For fans to attend games, positive COVID cases would have to safely stabilize for Governor Andrew Cuomo to remove the State’s ban on fans attending professional sporting events. From September 30th’s Erie County Update, 29% of COVID-positive cases have been between people aged 18-22.
Erie County is home to the largest public university in New York, the University at Buffalo, which has over 30,000 students. Additionally, Erie County is home to Buffalo State College, Canisius College, and other smaller colleges. The increase in COVID cases amongst the college-aged demographic has coincided with the college students returning to school for the fall semester.
The increase in cases between college-aged adults is not an event isolated to Erie County. In a post last updated on September 25, the New York Times estimated that more than 42,000 COVID cases have occurred since early September when students returned from summer break.
Despite a large number of college-aged COVID positives, the county-wide positive rates have decreased to 1.6%. The drop in COVID rates has given the Buffalo Bills the opportunity to explore fan attendance procedures. Recently, the Bills have received the backing of Erie County to allow 7,000 fans, 10% capacity, back into Bills Stadium. Reports have stated that the Bills want to model their fan return procedures after the Miami Dolphins’ approach at Hard Rock Stadium. The Bills and Erie County are now waiting for approval from New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Governor Cuomo is going to tour Bills Stadium and discuss the logistical hurdles with Bills executives. The report that Governor Cuomo will tour Bills Stadium comes one day after the Buffalo Bills stated that fans would not be able to attend games “for the foreseeable future.“
Most of the procedures listed above from the Miami Dolphins can be copied without issue. Specifically, the mandatory facemask requirement and six-feet distancing requirements are currently implemented in New York State. Additionally, the Buffalo Bills and Erie County have ruled out tailgating in Bills Stadium parking lots, just like the Miami Dolphins. The Village of Orchard Park, home to Bills Stadium, has assured County Executive Mark Poloncarz that the village will mirror whatever policy the Bills have regarding tailgating in private lots.
However, the Bills may face backlash and issues regarding the use of digital-only tickets and cashless transactions.
Under New York State law, sports and entertainment facilities are not allowed to have paperless tickets as the only option to enter the facility. NY ACA § 25.30 1(c). The statute requires that ticket purchasers must have independent transferability from the operator or the operator’s agent. Purchases of Buffalo Bills tickets can only occur from the operator, the Buffalo Bills, or their agent, Ticketmaster. Thus, purchasers at the time of sale must be allowed to have paper tickets.
Next, the Buffalo Bills and other establishments in New York State will be allowed to decline cash payments. There is no law in New York State requiring businesses to accept cash. NY Senate Bill S4691, which would require businesses to accept cash state-wide, was referred to the Consumer Protection Committee on January 8, 2020, where it has not progressed. Some municipalities, like New York City, have forced establishments to accept cash. However, Orchard Park does not have that requirement, allowing the Buffalo Bills, like Miami, to decline cash at home games to limit the exchange of hard goods between parties.
The Bills v. Chiefs game could mark the return of fans inside Bills Stadium for the first time in 292 days. With the Bills 3-0 hot start, fans are ready to return. As things stand now, the Buffalo Bills, Erie County, and Bills fans are waiting for the go-ahead from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s approval. In the meantime, wearing masks and distancing can increase the odds of people attending the Bills Stadium.