GREEN BAY — The Green Bay Packers’ unsurprising announcement Wednesday about a fan-less training camp also came with a request — or maybe it even qualified as a plea.
Wear a mask.
As expected, the team formally announced what seemed like a foregone conclusion since the COVID-19 pandemic began wreaking havoc on American sports: There will be no fans in attendance at the Packers’ 2020 training camp practices, the team’s annual Family Night practice at Lambeau Field or any home preseason games.
“The tremendous support of cheering fans at Lambeau Field motivates all of us in the Packers organization,” Packers president/CEO Mark Murphy said in a statement released by the team. “But after consulting with local health officials and reviewing League and CDC guidelines, we felt we needed to make this difficult decision.”
That means not only will the bleachers at Ray Nitschke Field be empty when the team begins practicing — whether that’s as scheduled when training camp is slated to kick off on July 28, or whenever on-field work does actually happen — but that the annual tradition of players riding children’s bicycles from the Lambeau Field locker room exit down to the practice field will be canceled for this summer, too.
“We will miss seeing so many of our fans, particularly the young ones, during this exciting time of year,” Murphy said.
But toward the end of the announcement, Murphy also asked fans for their help in increasing the chances that at least some fans will be able to attend regular-season games.
“We will continue to work on the protocols and logistics in the hope that we can welcome fans back to Lambeau Field for the regular season without jeopardizing the health of our players, team personnel and fans,” Murphy said. “We ask our fans to help us in this effort by wearing masks and staying six feet away from non-family members when out in the community in the coming weeks.”
Mask-wearing has become a politicized issue as coronavirus cases have spiked in certain areas of the country in recent weeks, so it was noteworthy the Packers framed the idea of wearing masks as a way to boost the odds of fans being able to return to the stands for the regular season, which the Packers are scheduled to kick off Sept. 13 against the Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. The Packers’ home opener is slated for Sept. 20 against the Detroit Lions.
The city of Green Bay and Brown County have been considering whether to make mask-wearing mandatory, as other municipalities have done in Wisconsin and around the country.
Earlier this month, the Packers sent a letter to season ticket holders informing them that there may be a limited number of fans or no fans at all in attendance for games and alerting them that they would be given the opportunity to “opt-in” or “opt-out” of their tickets for the 2020 season without losing their seats for 2021.
Within that announcement, the team also said if a limited number of fans will be permitted in the 81,441-seat Lambeau Field, face coverings “will be required.”
It’s unclear whether there will be any preseason games this summer; it has been widely reported the league wants to cut the preseason from four games to two per team, while the NFL Players Association is advocating for no preseason games. If the Packers do play two preseason games, they are expected to be Aug. 22 at home against the Cleveland Browns and Aug. 29 against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Family Night, which has been held at Lambeau Field in early August for the better part of two decades, will be held without fans, the team said. The annual part pep rally, part football exercise has been extremely popular with fans, who paid roughly $10 per ticket — a fraction of the cost of a game ticket — with the proceeds benefiting various charities. Except for years when the weather didn’t cooperate, the event would end with a fireworks display.
Family Night began as an intrasquad scrimmage but was switched to a regular practice after right tackle Bryan Bulaga suffered a season-ending knee injury during a goal-line play during the 2013 scrimmage.
The team said Family Night will still be televised state-wide this summer, though the date and time have yet to be finalized.
Meanwhile, quarterback Aaron Rodgers expressed some concern about the NFL successfully launching the 2020 season during an interview with NBC Sports at the annual American Century Championship celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe over the weekend.
“I think top of mind is, are we going to have a season?” Rodgers told Damon Hack during an on-course interview. “I think there’s a lot of things yet to be figured out. We’re hopeful that it’s with fans and we can get all the testing procedures down the way they want it to, for the utmost amount of safety. But I think we’re kind of waiting for the league and the (NFL) PA to figure some things out.”