NEW ORLEANS — The New Orleans Saints have begun discussions with LSU about holding the NFL club's future home games at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, a team spokesman said Tuesday.
“LSU has been gracious and enthusiastic regarding hosting our future games and we very much appreciate their partnership,” said Greg Bensel, the Saints' senior vice-president for communications. "We have also discussed the possibility of moving our home games to LSU with the NFL and they are aware of our exploring this option.
“Obviously, our overwhelming preference is to play our games in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome with partial fan attendance, but there has been no indication from the city on when, or if, this might be approved," Bensel added.
The Saints have played three of eight scheduled regular season home games in the Superdome so far this season with no ticketed fans in attendance. The few hundred in the stands consisted primarily of privately invited family members of players, coaches or staff.
The Saints had asked New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell to allow ticketed fans to occupy about 25% of the Superdome's 73,000 seats while wearing masks and following other social distancing guidelines during Monday Night's game against the Los Angeles Chargers. The Mayor denied that request.
“While the Saints’ request for a special exception to the city’s Covid-19 guidelines remains under consideration, allowing 20,000 people in an indoor space presents significant public health concerns," said Beau Tidwell, Cantrell's director of communications. "At present, no NFL stadium in the country with a fixed-roof facility is allowing such an exception. We will continue to monitor the public health data, but cannot set an artificial timeline for how and when conditions may allow for the kind of special exemption being requested.”
Currently, 15 teams have approval to host spectators from the general public at varying percentages of stadium capacity: Atlanta, Carolina, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Kansas City, Miami, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and Tennessee.
“We anticipate more cities coming online in the next few weeks while stadiums that have hosted fans will increase their capacity as the season progresses,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said. “We have shared best practices from the clubs that have hosted fans safely and responsibly."
McCarthy said the NFL also “engaged a company” that tracked COVID cases in area where fans have been permitted to attend games.
"There’s been no indication that NFL games with fans are having an impact on daily COVID case trends at the local or state level,” McCarthy said.
LSU's Tiger Stadium is an outdoor venue seating up to 102,000, meaning it can hold more than 25,000 fans at one-quarter capacity.
With Gov. John Bel Edwards' and Baton Rouge Mayor Sharon Weston Broome's approval, LSU had a little more than 20,000 fans at its lone home game so far this season on Sept. 26. Fans were also expected at Tiger Stadium on Oct. 10 before that game was moved to Missouri because of the threat of severe weather posed by Hurricane Delta.
Broome said she'd welcome the Saints playing with fans in Tiger Stadium — with conditions.
“Should they choose to come, the Saints and Saints fans will be required to adhere to the same guidelines put in place for college football games — social distancing with 25% occupancy, required masks, and no tailgating,” Broome said. “If we all do our part, we can begin to return to normalcy.”
The Saints last played home games at LSU in 2005 when the Superdome was damaged by Hurricane Katrina. That season, the Saints were displace to San Antonio, which hosted three home games, while Tiger Stadium hosted four. New Orleans also had to move one of its home games to New York that season.
A renovated Superdome re-opened for football in September 2006.
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Brett Martel, The Associated Press