The sports world's biggest annual event will look different this year.
When the Kansas City Chiefs meet the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Super Bowl LV on Feb. 7, it will be the first time the annual game has been held since COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in the United States last year.
Since then, sports leagues across the country have strived to find a balance that allows them to continue operations while keeping the virus from spreading among players.
Early into the season, the NFL struggled with rising coronavirus cases as multiple players — including star New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton — were placed on the league's COVID-19 list. While the NFL opted not to continue the season in a "bubble" like the NBA did for its playoffs, cases were kept to low enough levels to ultimately crown the 2021 NFC and AFC champions.
But hosting a Super Bowl amid the threat of a deadly virus means there will be many changes compared to last year's game, which saw the Chiefs defeat the San Francisco 49ers.
According to the New York Times, Super Bowl LV will be the lowest attended Super Bowl in history. That's because the NFL is capping fans at Tampa's Raymond James Stadium on Feb. 7 to 22,000, though the facility can hold more than 65,000. The change is to allow fans enough space to socially distance themselves from each other in "seating pods."
Of the 22,000 who will be allowed inside, 7,500 will be vaccinated healthcare workers who were gifted free tickets from the league. The other 14,500 will be paying fans who were selected in a lottery.
Outside of social distancing, those in attendance will have to wear masks, the Times reported. They will also be given free hand sanitizer. Fans will also have to use contactless payment services to buy goods during the game, Forbes reported.
Due to the airborne transmission of COVID-19 and case spikes across the country, the CDC continually advises against gatherings of large groups and recommends six feet of distance and face coverings at all times.
Not everyone is on board with the allowance of in-person attendees, with some on social media sharing fears that it may lead to a surge in coronavirus cases in Florida. Tampa Mayor Jane Castor, who previously was not in agreement with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis over relaxing some of the state COVID restrictions, said at a recent news conference that she is confident that it can be "a safe event for everyone," according to USA Today.
The city of Tampa will be requiring face masks outdoors in Super Bowl event zones, as well as indoors when social distancing is not possible.
Other changes at the Super Bowl will affect how the teams travel. According to ESPN, the Chiefs won't be allowed to visit Tampa until Feb. 6 — a day before the game. Typically, teams arrive a week in advance but the adjustment follows guidelines the league has had in place all season, the outlet reported.
Fortunately for the Buccaneers, traveling will not be on their itinerary since they're the first team in NFL history to host a Super Bowl in their home city.
According to ESPN, Super Bowl parties for either team following the game are not guaranteed to be held this year, and many media events leading up to the game will be happening only virtually.
The Weeknd is set to perform during the halftime show, and while the NFL has not confirmed plans for the segment, it is unlikely fans will be allowed onto the field like in previous years.
The Buccaneers and the Chiefs are facing off at Super Bowl LV on Sunday in Tampa. The game will air on CBS at 6:30 p.m. EST on Feb. 7.Super Bowl LV will air on CBS at 6:30 p.m. EST on Feb. 7.
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