The NFL's hope for Super Bowl 55 was that Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida would appear full, even with a limited-capacity crowd.
But if social media chatter Sunday evening is any indication, the setup might have almost been too convincing.
The word "PACKED" was trending on Twitter in the first quarter of Sunday's game between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, as viewers marveled at the sight of a what appeared to be a full stadium in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The stadium, of course, was only partly filled, with cardboard cutouts occupying the bulk of the remaining seats.
Fans sit with cardboard cutouts of fans before Super Bowl 55. (Photo: Kim Klement, USA TODAY Sports)
The NFL announced that no more than 25,000 people would be in attendance at the game, including 7,500 health care workers, all of whom have been vaccinated. The league indicated that 6,500 of the workers were from central Florida, while the remaining 1,000 hailed from the NFL's other 31 markets.
"There are 30,000 fan cutouts killing seats spread out evenly among the lower, middle and upper bowls," NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told USA TODAY Sports in an email Sunday night. "These cutouts provide physical distancing between pods of fans and the vaccinated health care workers.
"The NFL has worked extensively with local, county, state and federal public health authorities and officials, including the CDC, to develop comprehensive protocols to host fans in a safe and responsible way and protect the public. These public health officials reviewed and provided feedback on the NFL’s comprehensive plans that build upon protocols NFL clubs employed to safely host more than 1.2 million fans throughout the season at 116 games."
McCarthy added that all fans "must follow all stadium policies, including health and safety policies such as mandatory mask wearing, and posted instructions while in Raymond James Stadium and on stadium grounds."
Raymond James Stadium has a listed capacity of nearly 67,000, which means the stadium was scheduled to be about 38% full for Sunday's game.
Contact Tom Schad at [email protected] or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.
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