U.S. Bank Stadium will be a fan-free zone for at least the first two Vikings home games this season because of COVID-19, the team announced Tuesday.
The Vikings open their season at home at noon Sept. 13 against the Green Bay Packers. Two weeks later, they are scheduled to host the Tennessee Titans.
But statewide restrictions on big indoor gatherings and concern for fans, players and employees compelled the team to preemptively close the stadium to spectators for at least those two games.
“Based on our conversations and the current Minnesota Department of Health guidelines that specify an indoor venue capacity of 250, we have determined it is not the right time to welcome fans back to U.S. Bank Stadium,” the team’s statement said. “We will continue to work with the appropriate officials on our plans with the hope of bringing fans back in a safe manner later this season.”
The Vikings are set to play their fifth season in the stadium that usually sells out more than 66,000 seats for every game. But this year, there will be plenty of visible and vacant purple seats for the duration of the season — however long it may run.
At his scheduled electronic news conference Tuesday, coach Mike Zimmer expressed resignation to the situation for now. “I always felt like we’ve got great fans and we hope to get them back,” he said, “but it is what it is.”
In a separate news conference, defensive end Eddie Yarbrough said he’ll miss the fans, “especially at U.S. Bank Stadium” where the crowd noise, vibration and energy fire up the defense. But between the whistles, Yarbrough added, “football is football.”
Even before the team announced the decision, fans had backed away from attending in person. About 60% of the 60,000 season-ticket holders had taken up the team’s offer of skipping the season, according to the team.
The Vikings gave season-ticket holders the option to take the year off and either get refunds for the tickets or apply the payments to the 2021 season. “We will deeply miss your energy and passion on game day that creates a special environment unique across sports,” that letter read.
Vikings executives said last week that they’re still working to get some fans in the building. The team is in discussions with state officials about eventually reopening for a fraction of the usual number of fans, possibly 20%. If fans are allowed into games this season, they will likely see new seating configurations, staggered entry times and face-covering requirements, the team told ticket holders.
“We have sought to balance the opportunity to provide fan access with the responsibility to adhere to public health and medical guidance in order to maintain the health and safety of fans, players, staff members and the broader community,” the statement said. “Ultimately, public health is our top priority.”
For months, Gov. Tim Walz has been clear that packing fans back into giant sports stadiums won’t happen until COVID-19 can be contained or cured.
In the NFL, about two-thirds of the 32 teams have announced plans for starting the season without fans or with tightly restricted numbers. At U.S. Bank Stadium, the artificial turf will be cleaned before games with ultraviolet light using a device acquired by the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA) and dubbed the green zapper.
Meanwhile, Major League Baseball delayed the start of its season until July. Since then, the Twins have been playing their games at Target Field and away without fans in the ballparks.
The Vikings’ third home game, and sixth overall in the season, is set for Oct. 18 against the Atlanta Falcons.