The Buffalo Bills administered more than 5,000 COVID-19 tests in their stadium parking lot on Wednesday as they prepare to host about 6,700 fans for Saturday’s playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts.
Bills owner and team president Kim Pegula told ESPN in a phone interview Wednesday that the New York State government insisted all fans and gameday staff be tested if it was to approve the plan to allow fans into Bills Stadium for the first time this season.
The team added a $63 surcharge to the game’s ticket price to cover the cost of testing, then sent appointment times to everyone who got tickets so they could be tested on the stadium site in the days leading up to the game.
“It’s such a great sports town, and this being our third year (of the last four) in the playoffs but not having a home (playoff) game in 26 years, it’s really special for the community,” Pegula said. “I’m amazed. Today we tested over 5,000 people and it went really smoothly and we got it done.”
Pegula said conversations with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office have been going on all year, but that the video images of Bills fans at the airport to greet the team a few weeks ago when it returned from Denver after clinching the AFC East title helped drive the decision.
“Seeing those fans at the airport, part of the thought process was, ‘If we don’t allow fans in, where are they going to go, and will that be safe for our community?'” Pegula said.
The Bills studied other teams that have allowed fans at games this year during the pandemic to try to figure out the best way to handle it. New York state officials attended a game in Pittsburgh earlier this year when the Steelers allowed about 7,000 fans in, and state officials will be on hand Saturday to observe the procedures and how they’re working. Whether the Bills can have fans at their divisional-round game should they beat the Colts and advance depends in part on how Saturday goes.
“The state has said, ‘You can plan (for fans at a second playoff game), but there’s no guarantee, ‘” Pegula said. “They want to see how this process goes, in terms of mask wearing, ingress, egress, all of that. So a lot of our messaging to our fans is to just really follow the protocols that are in place.”
“Who would have imagined you’d be excited to have 6,700 people at a playoff game?” Bills GM Brandon Beane said in a phone interview Thursday morning. “But we couldn’t be more excited right now.”