Florida NFL teams sticking to small crowds, despite state allowing them to pack the house

Florida’s two pro football teams, the Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars, both said Wednesday they’ll keep home crowds to a minimum, despite Gov. Ron De Santis’ invitation to pack their stadiums.

WMEN-AM reported on Wednesday that the Dolphins had received clearance from Tallahassee to open up Hard Rock Stadium to open its capacity to more than 65,000 if the team wanted to so, despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

But in a statement to NBC News about an hour later, the governor’s press secretary, Cody McCloud, clarified that the Dolphins and Jaguars haven’t needed any permission to fill their stadiums once DeSantis announced one and a half weeks ago that the Sunshine State is entering Phase 3 of its re-opening plans.

“Sports franchises can do as they please, they don’t need clearance from the state,” McCould said.

And communications director Fred Piccolo added in a tweeted statement: “Just to be clear. Sports franchises, like most businesses under phase 3 can do as they see medically and safety wise in their best interests. There is no state clearance or anything of the sort.”

The Dolphins now limit home crowds to about 13,000 fans and the Jags have vowed to fill no more than 25 percent of TIAA Bank Field.

“We’ll continue to follow CDC guidelines and put everyone’s safety first and monitor things as we go,” Dolphins Vice Chairman and CEO Tom Garfinkel said in a statement released by the team on Wednesday.

“Right now with positivity rates where they are, we feel that we can keep people safe in a socially distanced environment, which is our 13,000 capacity manifest.”

The Jags have played two games at home so far in 2020, drawing 14,100 on Sept. 13 against the Indianapolis Colts and 16,563 on Sept. 24 against the in-state rival Dolphins.

Miami has also played twice at home, with 11,075 attending its Sept. 20 battle with the Buffalo Bills and 12,369 showing up for the Seattle Seahawks this past Sunday.

“At this time there are no changes to attendance capacity or safety protocols at Jaguars games,” Jags Director of Communications Amanda Holt said in a statement on Wednesday. “Capacity will continue to be limited to 25 percent and masks must be worn inside the stadium at all times.”

Florida has struggled to contain the coronavirus, as Sunshine State residents are testing positive at more than 10.8 percent as of Wednesday, according to a rolling 14-day average maintained by Johns Hopkins University. The World Health Organization has set a benchmark of 5 percent for local governments to safely reopen businesses.