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Arts & Life

Not Everyone Is Cheering Decision To Allow Fans At Denver Broncos Home Game

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Courtesy Denver Broncos
Broncos' Brittany Bowlen and Colorado Gov. Jared Polis announced at a news conference that the NFL team would be allowed to admit 5,700 fans to its upcoming game at Empower Field at Mile High.

On Sunday, 5,700 fans will pour into Empower Field at Mile High to watch the Denver Broncos play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The announcement was made two weeks ago during a news conference with Gov. Jared Polis and Broncos Vice President of Strategic Initiatives Brittany Bowlen.

While it’s a lower number of fans than some NFL teams have allowed in the opening weeks of the season, it is the largest sanctioned event in Colorado since the pandemic began in early March. But some are wondering why certain organizations get a pass for large gatherings and not others.

“I was taken aback,” said Chris Zacher, CEO/executive director of Levitt Pavilion Denver and Colorado’s co-captain for the National Independent Venues Association.

“Because we’ve been in constant contact with the city and county of Denver and there is a variance process in place, however Denver hasn’t reached the lowest level of — the lowest threshold of new COVID cases on a daily basis for x amount of days — that would allow us to even to even more into the area where we would be able to allowed to apply for variances, so it was shocking to us.”

At the time of the Broncos announcement, every other Colorado venue was, at most, allowed to have 175 attendees. Even Red Rocks Amphitheater — whose governing agency, Denver Arts & Venues, recently announced it was closing facilities next month and furloughing staff due to the lack of revenue from shows — has only had audiences of 175 at the few live shows it’s hosted.

To Zacher, the decision to allow the Broncos to have that many fans in the stands smacked of favoritism.

“Politics is a dirty game and when you have money and when you have the backing of organizations like the NFL and Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer, for some reason in this country we tend to put sports above everything else,” he said.

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Courtesy Levitt Pavilion Denver
Levitt Pavilion Denver canceled its entire 2020 summer season. CEO/executive director Chris Zacher says he's disappointed in what seems an uneven system in allotting attendance variances for local venues and sports stadiums.

At the news conference, Gov. Polis was asked if the state was showing favoritism to the “beloved” team.

“Well the Broncos are beloved, but frankly they’re playing by the same rules here as every other type of large event,” he said. “They’re having a series of 175-person events in a very large, outdoor setting. So of course that provides a framework for any other types of larger events that want to have cohorted groups of 175 with distinct entry points and operational distinction between them.”

Polis added that the state encourages other groups, including Bandimere Speedway, which recently hosted a “Stop the COVID Chaos” event in protest of regulations limiting crowds at the race track, to work towards finding ways to have large events safely.

“Because we want to get back to normal as quickly as possible, and having these events in a safe way is a big part of that,” he said.

At Sunday’s game, the audience will be made up of mostly season ticket holders selected through a lottery. Bowlen says the fan cohorts — socially distanced groups of up to six people — will have access to designated restrooms and concessions closest to their sections. Face masks will be required when people are moving between their seats and the rest of the stadium and tailgating before the game will not be allowed.

“This has been a plan that we’ve put together over three months in the working and we have truly partnered with the state as well as the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to put these plans in place and make both infrastructural changes to our building as well as upgrade our sanitation and disinfectant protocol,” Bowlen said.

But for Chris Zacher, the announcement was especially tough to hear as they’d spent weeks crafting a plan of their own, one that he feels certain was on the verge of being approved by the city. Ultimately they decided to cancel the summer season. In a typical year, Levitt Pavilion can host up to 12,000 attendees.

“So if we were operating under those same rules, I mean — you’re probably looking at 1,300 to 1,400 max — which would have allowed us to, at the bare minimum, bring through some local artists and get people who are ready to see live music,” Zacher said.

It’s unknown whether they could have made a season worth it financially — the nonprofit venue has already lost about $1.5 million due to the pandemic. But Zacher believes the state could have gone a long way in helping it and other venues simply by reaching out to them ahead of time about the plans they were making with professional sports organizations.

“But they failed to do that and I think it was a bad move on their part,” he said. “ It caused a tremendous amount of frustration.”

"We’re all struggling. The independent Colorado venue is bleeding about $45,000 a month. And it’s not sustainable."
Chris Zacher, Levitt Pavilion Denver

Especially among the many music venues that are still closed due to the pandemic.

“They’re struggling,” Zacher said. “We’re all struggling. The average venue — independent Colorado venue — is bleeding about $45,000 a month. And it’s not sustainable.”

Without the ability to reopen, along with federal aid through the SOS or RESTART acts, it is estimated that Colorado will lose 80% to 90% of its music venues in the next three months.

That said, Zacher is optimistic that the Broncos decision is a pathway to testing the safety and viability of opening up other venues to larger crowds.

“It also allows us to measure exactly what the Broncos put in place,” he said. “The PPE side of bringing people back into venues is something none of us have had to do before and it’s best to start it in outdoor spaces so that we’ve not sharing HVAC systems and people aren’t cramming into confined spaces to get into a venue. So we’ll be able to measure that and start to collectively think about, what can we put together as an industry that we can bring to the city and state that can showcase that we can do these same things.”

In addition to the Broncos, venues will also be able to see how the Colorado Rapids fare with their season. The soccer club was recently granted a variance to host just over 1,000 fans at its matches this fall at Dicks Sporting Goods Park.

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