Saturday 6 February 2021 9:47 am

Cutouts, twice-daily tests and no Budweiser adverts: How Super Bowl LV has had to adapt in a pandemic

Some things about Super Bowl LV will be reassuringly familiar, like the star-spangled razzmatazz and Tom Brady.

But Sunday’s game between last year’s winners the Kansas City Chiefs and Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers will also be different to the 54 previous editions.

The NFL has had to adapt its season finale for the Covid-19 era, from limiting attendance to safeguarding the teams and even tweaking the half-time show. Here’s what Super Bowl LV will look like.

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Will there be fans at Super Bowl LV?

The Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, will be around one third full, with approximately 25,000 spectators allowed to attend.

Some 7,000 of those will be vaccinated healthcare workers who have been given free tickets. 

The NFL plans to fill a further 30,000 empty seats with cutouts of fans who have paid $100 each for the privilege. 

The scheme, which sees some proceeds go to charity and gives buyers a chance of winning tickets for next year’s game, quickly sold out. 

Eagle-eyed viewers may also spot a smattering of NFL legends and celebrities in among the cardboard hoi polloi.

“We’re lucky to have around 25,000 coming in,” NFL vice president of game operations Matt Joyce told City A.M.

“I think it will look full, because of the cutouts and the people, and create quite a good atmosphere with limited capacity.” 

How else will Covid-19 measures affect fans at Super Bowl LV?

Strict social distancing rules, one-way systems, sanitiser stations and cashless payment will be in place throughout the stadium, whose car park served as a Covid-19 testing station last year.

In line with local guidance, everyone must wear a mask except when eating or drinking. The NFL is giving away high-filtration masks as part of its Fan Gameday Kit.

The first few rows of seats have been covered with LED screens to keep spectators at a safe distance from the players on the field. 

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' home, the Raymond James Stadium, will host Super Bowl LV
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ home, the Raymond James Stadium, will host Super Bowl LV (Getty Images)

Most of the measures have been in place in the NFL since last year. The league has seen more than 250 players test positive in that time but only relatively minor disruptions to its schedule.

“Our planning has been very different to normal over the last 12 months and certainly leading into this,” said Joyce. “But the regular season gives us a good framework of how to operate.”

What will it be like for the players?

The NFL is taking no chances in its attempts to prevent players contracting Covid before or during Super Bowl LV.

Players are being tested twice a day, while the Chiefs are not travelling to Florida until the weekend.

Neither team has had a case for more than a week, but two Chiefs players have been placed on a watchlist after a barber who cut their hair later tested positive.

Receiver Demarcus Robinson and center Daniel Kilgore are not allowed to rejoin the squad until cleared by further testing.

The Bucs' evergreen quarterback Tom Brady, set for his record-extending 10th Super Bowl appearance, is one of the more familiar aspects of this year's game
The Bucs’ evergreen quarterback Tom Brady, set for his record-extending 10th Super Bowl appearance, is one of the more familiar aspects of this year’s game (Getty Images)

All NFL staff involved in staging the game were tested prior to travelling to Tampa and are holding meetings via Zoom from separate rooms.

The throng of people on the sidelines will be missing on Sunday, with only essential team employees permitted.

“It’s all about core people that need to perform their role around the game,” Joyce said.

Will the half-time show change?

The Super Bowl’s half-time is almost as famous as the game itself; similarly, it will look slightly different in 2021.

Canadian RnB star The Weeknd is this year’s musical attraction and plans to perform in different parts of the stadium – not just the traditional spot on the field.

“There will be small elements on the field but we’re looking at using the whole stadium and bringing that to life in a slightly different way,” said Joyce. 

What is the financial impact on Super Bowl LV?

With the stadium less than half full, and almost a third of those in attendance receiving free tickets, game day revenue is certain to take a significant hit.

On top of that, additional safety measures related to Covid-19 have increased the cost of staging Super Bowl LV, Joyce said.

The wider Super Bowl economy is also being affected, however, and in particular the market for half-time advertising.

Some brands are thinking twice about shelling out more than $5m for a 30-second slot during a pandemic for both practical and cosmetic reasons.

Budweiser, Coca-Cola and Pepsi are all set to absent from the commercial break this year.

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