Chiefs fans show up for practice

Herbie Teope
The Kansas City Star (TNS)
Fans wearing face masks watch the Kansas City Chiefs during a training camp session Saturday at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs opened the stadium to 2,000 season ticket holders to watch practice.

If their presence is allowed for football during a COVID-19 pandemic, the fans will definitely come.

That was affirmed Saturday in Kansas City as approximately 2,000 season-ticket members showed up in the morning for Day 9 of the Chiefs' training camp at Arrowhead Stadium.

The event marked the first time during this year's camp that the Super Bowl champions had allowed fans to attend a practice.

"It was good to have an opportunity to get out there today, had a few fans there," Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy said. "The organization has done a great job of making sure they're doing it the right way, giving the fans an opportunity to participate. They brought some energy. I know the guys felt it; they were vibing off that energy."

Center Austin Reiter agreed.

"I was pretty impressed with the noise level today from the couple thousand — one to two thousand — we had today," Reiter said.

Fans cheered when players came out of the tunnel areas and applauded virtually every play. It was a festive atmosphere.

But there were numerous reminders around Arrowhead that the coronavirus pandemic is ongoing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says COVID-19 has now claimed more than 174,000 lives in the U.S. alone.

The Chiefs limited the number of fans who were allowed to attend and installed numerous protocols with safety and social-distancing measures in mind.

Masks were supposed to be mandatory for fans, just as they will be when the Chiefs allow 22% of Arrowhead's normal capacity to attend their first three home games of the season, starting with their Sept. 10 opener against Houston. But some spectators were observed either wearing masks improperly or not wearing them at all, even when they weren't actively eating or drinking — the only exceptions the Chiefs have said they allow.

Fans seated in the stands were separated throughout the vast venue, which can hold more than 70,000, by empty rows of seats. Fans were also prohibited from physically interacting with players — no high-fives or autographs.

Throughout the concourse areas, signs were painted on the ground showing people where to stand in observance of the requisite 6-foot distance from others. Similar signs were painted on the floor of men's restrooms; stalls were clearly marked "Open" or "Closed," with spaces in between. Signs had also been placed on the mirrors above the sinks, asking fans to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds.

It was a lot to take in, but Saturday's event at Arrowhead Stadium took place as a majority of NFL teams continue to conduct training camp without fans.

Some teams, such as the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks, have announced in the past week that they will not allow fans to attend their home games for at least the first few weeks of the regular season.

The Chiefs, meanwhile, will hold another season-ticket member event next Saturday, Aug. 29, and open it for up even more fans than the one they hosted this weekend. Instead of 2,000, they will allow 5,000 spectators next weekend.

That number will soon climb higher still: At 22% of usual stadium capacity, close to 17,000 people will be in attendance for the Chiefs' Sept. 10 season opener against the Texans.

Center Austin Reiter embraces the opportunity to play in front of the Chiefs fans again.

"I think 17,000 is going to be pretty loud," he said. "I think definitely there's noise there, which would be nice. A quiet game is probably going to be a little awkward, but I'm pretty excited because I think we're definitely going to have some good noise there with the limited capacity we'll have."

Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu agreed.

"I think they're so important to the game, especially here in Kansas City," Mathieu said. "They're like that extra element that we feed off.

"I think it's a good deal that we are going to have some fans in some kind of capacity. But also, I truly believe that the Chiefs and the NFL will take the right steps to help those people stay safe."