D.C. United’s second-division team is about to become the first D.C.-area team to play in front of spectators during the coronavirus pandemic.
For Wednesday night’s home opener against Pittsburgh, United will be allowed to have up to 1,000 fans in attendance, as it will for other home games, because Virginia is in Phase Three of Gov. Ralph Northam’s reopening guidelines.
“We have put together very serious training protocols for all of our staff and all of our vendors that are working the games,” said Sam Zweifach, Loudoun United’s director of finance and special projects. “We are having everyone working our games submit to a health survey before they ever show up to the soccer field. If we are going to host fans, we are going to be smart about it and safe about it.”
Under Phase Three rules, sports venues in Virginia are allowed to operate at 50% of occupancy or 1,000 patrons, whichever figure is lower. Segra Field is on the campus of Philip A. Bolen Park in Leesburg and has 5,000 seats.
Welcome to the world of soccer support that keeps social distancing in mind, along with cheering. All fans will be in assigned seats and are expected to wear masks. The largest block of tickets sold together is four, with exceptions for families.
Loudoun United will block off seats to provide at least 6 feet of distance between individuals or groups.
“In our facility, it is pretty easy to spread fans, and they should feel comfortable in an outdoor venue,” said Zweifach. “We are not expecting 1,000 people on Wednesday and we are quite happy to ease into this. I think between 500 or 600 people is a good target number for our first game.”
Ticket-holders will receive a recommendation for a time to enter their seating section. Fans are allowed to leave at any time during the game, but there will be a timed exit policy at the end of the match.
“We want to make this as easy as possible, especially since it the first time for both us and the supporters,” said Zweifach. “We will tell you when you should arrive, and our PA announcers will help with staggered leave times to make sure there is no sort of bottlenecking at the exit at the end of the game.”
Indeed, the goal is to avoid creating lines, and where lines occur, social distancing will be enforced. Segra Field is cashless; concessions and merchandise can be ordered through the team’s app in advance. The club is ready to give out masks and gloves to any fans in need of them, and hand sanitizing stations are available through the stadium.
Wednesday’s match will be Loudoun United’s home opener, but competition in the USL Championship, Loudoun United’s league, has been going on since mid-July, with fans in the stands in markets where it has been allowed.
More than half of the 35 clubs in the league have been playing games with fans in attendance.
The Indy Eleven plays in the home of the NFL’s Colts and has been drawing about 5,000 fans per game. Louisville City is averaging more 4,000 fans per game. Closer to D.C. and following the same guidelines Loudoun United is under, the Richmond Kickers have attracted around 800 fans to each of their two home games.
“We are ready and we know how important this is,” said Zweifach. “We have been preparing for this game for two months and we know other leagues, including Major League Soccer, are watching what we do. It has been positive so far in other USL stadiums, and we expect the same here at Segra Field.”
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