Texas fans cheer in the second half of an NCAA college football game at Royal-Memorial Stadium, Saturday, Nov., 9, 2019. [Stephen Spillman for Statesman]

Football

Even with social distancing, Texas officials believe all season ticket holders can fit in stadium

School officials have modeled out a way to get 62,000 fans into the 100,000-seat Royal-Memorial Stadium

Posted June 10th, 2020

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Story highlights
  • “Our social modeling if we were to stay with a true 6-foot radius… we’re only somewhere between 30 and 35% (capacity) in that case.”
  • Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte has said numerous times he’s planning on having a full house this season.
  • Fans will likely see announcements about game day changes in early August.

As long as Gov. Greg Abbott allows at least 50% stadium capacity this fall, Texas officials believe they can squeeze all football season ticket holders into Royal-Memorial Stadium.

Speaking on a conference call with other college administrators, UT’s director of external operations Drew Martin said coronavirus planning “changes every day and is so fluid.” But the school has modeled what the stadium would look like on game day in a variety of ways.

“Our social modeling, if we were to stay with a true six-foot radius … we’re only somewhere between 30 and 35% (capacity) in that case,” Martin said on the call organized by LEAD1.

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But Martin stressed it’s a long wait until the season kickoff against South Florida on Sept. 5.

“What we know today will not be what we know on July 10 and August 10,” he said. “It’s 2:15 p.m. Central time on June 10th. We’re a long way from snapping the football and seeing what works and what doesn’t.”

Texas fans sing along to “Don’t Stop Believin'” for the first time during the 2018 game against Iowa State on Nov. 17, 2018. Home games will look different this fall, however. (Stephen Spillman/For Statesman]

Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte has said numerous times he’s planning on having a full house this season. Royal-Memorial Stadium’s listed capacity is 100,119; the actual number is lower due to the ongoing south end zone construction project.

On June 3, Abbott announced that college and professional sports venues could operate at 50% capacity. That announcement was part of the state’s “Phase 3” reopening plan. Abbott, a frequent sideline guest at UT games, is likely to expand the capacity limits this summer if COVID-19 cases remain subdued.

However, the state reported a record number of hospitalizations on Monday as Abbott pressed forward with reopening bars, restaurants, amusement parks and other businesses. More than 2,100 people were hospitalized in Texas as of Wednesday afternoon, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

Last season, UT announced it had sold 62,737 season tickets before the opener. The school has not announced the season ticket figure for 2020 yet as payment plans were rearranged due to the pandemic. UT must make room for students and the band, too.

On the call, Martin said the university is going to a mobile ticketing system this fall. The athletic department is not yet prepared to announce specifics, a source said.

Oklahoma athletics announced a mobile ticketing system in May whereby no printable tickets will be available.

“Mobile ticketing will also protect the integrity of your tickets and to prevent fraud and counterfeit problems that often accompany PDF tickets,” OU’s athletic website states. “Printed PDF tickets WILL NOT be accepted at any OU Athletics venues for admittance.”

Going to a mobile ticket experience would have happened without the onset of COVID-19. But Texas fans — all sports fans, really — should brace for a new experience whenever sports resume.

Russ Simons, a managing partner with Venue Solutions Group, is considered one of the nation’s experts in stadium operations. In addition to sports venues, Simons was the architect of Walmart’s “Black Friday” crowd management plan. On the call, he told college administrators there is “a lot of snake oil coming out of every pour” as it relates to bacterial cleaning solutions sold on the market.

Fans typically aren’t accustomed to seeing cleaning crews at events. Now, that will change, Simons said.

“It is going to be critically important for people coming to your events for people to see easy and obvious signs of sanitation,” Simons said. “People want to be reassured. We’re going to want to see cleaning people.”

Temperature checks may be done at entry points, although there’s an industry belief that those are more “theater” than anything else. One-way aisles, line queues to get into the restroom and cashless concession stands are all options being discussed. Texas is expected to have hand sanitation stands located throughout the concourse.

It’s unclear whether fans will be required to wear face coverings at UT home games. The university announced Tuesday that all students, faculty, staff and visitors must wear a face covering to begin the fall semester.

“There isn’t anyone who’s going to choose to go to a football game at the University of Texas and not know there’s some amount of risk associated with it,” Simons said.

Texas officials have resisted talking about their specific plans for fans mostly because time is still on their side. Fans will likely see announcements about game day changes in early August.

Del Conte has not wanted to comment about proposed changes because it could be outdated or bad information within hours.

“This is such an evolving process,” Martin said, “and I think I used the word fluid in this situation more times in the last five months than I have in my life.”

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com.

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