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In a reversal, Philadelphia now says fans might be able to attend Eagles games

SEAN COLLINS WALSH
The Philadelphia Inquirer (TNS)
Jim Kenney

PHILADELPHIA – Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration is clarifying guidance it offered Tuesday on whether professional sports teams can allow spectators in outdoor stadiums during the coronavirus pandemic, opening the door to the Eagles playing before fans this fall a day after saying that would be illegal under the city’s emergency rules.

But the possibility of fans getting to cheer and boo the Eagles this year is dependent on the city easing its social-distancing rules before or during the season, a scenario seen as increasingly unlikely as coronavirus cases spike across the country.

On Tuesday, Public Health Commissioner Thomas Farley said that allowing spectators at sporting events is illegal under Kenney’s executive orders, specifically Philadelphia’s modified version of Gov. Tom Wolf’s “green” phase for reopening. Kenney’s order prohibits outdoor crowds of 50 or more people.

“We have been in communication with the Eagles. We have told them our expectations are that they don’t have fans. And my understanding is NFL guidelines also provide authority and remind teams that local authorities have the ability to ban fans, so I don’t expect any issues,” Managing Director Brian Abernathy said Tuesday.

But on Wednesday, Kenney spokesperson Deana Gamble clarified that it is possible that the city changes its rules before or during the season. If there were a game tomorrow, however, spectators would not be allowed under current rules, she said.

“The Eagles have been planning for a variety of scenarios,” she said. “It’s a fluid situation, and that policy is under constant review.”

Gamble said the clarification was issued in response to “questions from the public” about administration officials’ comments. She declined to say whether the statement was made in response to a request by the Eagles.

“Discussions are continuing between the city and the Eagles,” she said.

The Eagles emailed season ticket holders with the news shortly after the city’s announcement.

“We appreciate your patience and understanding during this time. As stated by the city, we have been planning for a variety of scenarios with your health and safety as a priority,” the team said. “Our discussions are ongoing and we will continue to communicate directly with you about our plans as the season approaches.”

The team is accommodating season ticket holders who do not wish to attend games this year – if fans are allowed – by offering them the ability to “opt out” of the season, letting them keep their ticket licenses for future seasons but forgo their seats this year. That strategy may also help prepare the team for a scenario in which it is allowed to host fans but with limits on attendance.

Those who opt out can get a refund of the money they have already paid to reserve their 2020 tickets, or rollover that payment to the Eagles’ 2021 campaign.