The Buffalo Bills will allow some fans to attend their first home playoff game since 1996, which will be played on either Jan. 9 or 10. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday that 6,772 fans would be allowed into Bills Stadium for the game, stressing the need for continued health and safety precautions as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. During the 2020 regular season, Bills games had been closed to fans as part of New York state’s COVID-19 protocols regarding professional sports.
The stadium is outdoors. Every fan must test negative before game, wear a mask & social distance.
There will be post-game contact tracing.
To Bills fans—be smart.
— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) December 30, 2020
Fans in attendance will need to register a negative COVID-19 test before being allowed to enter the stadium, and the team will work with New York state’s Department of Health to conduct contact tracing afterward. Fans will also be socially distanced throughout the stadium and required to wear face masks. Other precautions include staggered entry times, cashless transactions, mandatory mask wearing and no tailgating. Fans who fail to comply will be ejected.
Several NFL teams have allowed fans this season at a reduced capacity, including the Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Indianapolis Colts, Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
According to Pro Football Reference, Buffalo’s last home playoff game was a 27-30 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in a Wild Card game on Dec. 28, 1996. At the press conference on Wednesday, Cuomo was joined by Bills owners Terry and Kim Pegula, who underscored the importance of limiting the spread of COVID-19 while also welcoming the support of their team’s fans.
“We know that the fans have been waiting 25 years to be able to attend a playoff game and we are so excited to be able to allow the limited amount of fans that we can,” Kim Pegula said. “I want to just say that we are so hopeful that there will be many more games that all fans can attend. For us to do that […] we all need to be safe starting today even beyond the game.”
“Remember, our objective here is to support our team in as many ways as we can,” fellow Bills owner Terry Pegula said. “And I ask them to be safe, be smart, and most importantly be loud.”
Cuomo said he also plans to attend the game.
“They have captured a certain energy and charisma that is effective,” Cuomo said at the press conference. “We really have to take this seriously. We really don’t want the fact that the Bills are in the playoffs to be a negative in terms of COVID.”
Western New York has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. On Wednesday, the Erie County Department of Health announced 554 new confirmed coronavirus cases with a daily positivity rate of 6.4%. The seven-day moving average of newly reported cases, which helps smooth out irregularities in data reporting, is also 6.4%. Total cases through Dec. 29 in the region are now up to 40,463.
The Bills (12-3) defeated the New England Patriots (6-9) on Monday to lock up the AFC East division title for the first time since 1995 and depending on how this week and the next work out, they could end up hosting more than one playoff game. If the Bills advance to host a divisional round game, fans also will be permitted to attend.