At least one professional sports organization is ready to bring back its fans.
Professional Bull Riders, which is owned by UFC parent Endeavor, will allow fans – albeit not a packed house – to attend a July event in South Dakota.
PBR becomes the first sports organization to welcome fans back into the arena since the major U.S. sports leagues paused their seasons last month because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The PBR said it would allow ticketed fans to attend its July 10-12 event at the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where there have been about 3,900 cases of the virus and at least 44 deaths. PBR has competed at the ASM Global-managed facility the past six years.
For the PBR, allowing the return of fans comes as major sports leagues like the NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball wrestle with how to safely return to play. Most of the models call for games without fans, at least in the shorter term.
“South Dakota is working to get back to normal,’’ Governor Kristi Noem said, “and that includes the return of sports at the proper time.’’
UFC and PBR are among the few U.S. sports leagues staging events, joining Nascar and the WWE.
PBR is putting in place a number of health and safety protocols, including a limited ticket supply.
To increase physical distancing, tickets will only be available for about 35% of the seats normally sold for a PBR event at the facility.
Also, there will be a four-to-six-foot buffer between ticketed seats, the locations for which will minimize the potential for crossover of fans entering or exiting. Facial coverings will be provided for fans.
There will be enter- and exit-only doors, early entry for elderly fans, and venue staff opening and closing doors. After the event, fans will exit by zones.
In addition, mobile ticketing will replace hard tickets; there will be an increased reliance on cashless, contactless concessions with prepacked food; social distancing in restrooms (and a limited number of people at one time) and concession areas; and regular medical testing and screening for staff as they enter the venue.
The ticketed event is the culmination of a five-week, made-for-TV team tournament designed to take advantage of the dearth of live sports programming due to the virus.
The first four events will be held in Las Vegas without fans.
Participants in The PBR Monster Energy Team Challenge will be tested for COVID-19 prior to entering the facility each weekend, PBR said.
“We support PBR in their courageous and considerable action plan,’’ said Mitch Covington, senior vice president of sports marketing at Monster Energy. “As more sports seek to return to hosting regular competition series, PBR is charting a path to present world-class entertainment while maintaining all important safety guidelines.’’
The dearth of sports has leagues and networks thinking creatively. ESPN, for instance, moved up the release of the Michael Jordan/Chicago Bulls documentary, “The Last Dance,’’ which has drawn an average of about 5.5 million viewers.
In all, the PBR event will produce about 41 hours of programming on CBS and CBS Sports Network. The plan is for 48 of the top bull riders to compete in the12-team challenge.