Arkansas finalizes gameday protocols ahead of 2020 opener
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FAYETTEVILLE — After about six months of preparation, Arkansas has finalized its gameday plans ahead of the opener against Georgia.
The Razorbacks will welcome 16,500 fans into Reynolds Razorback Stadium for the Sept. 26 matchup, according to Rick Thorpe, the UA’s Deputy AD for External Engagement.
That is just under 22 percent of the stadium’s normal capacity, which will allow seating to be spread out in accordance to social distancing guidelines. Other steps have been taken to ensure fan safety, as well.
“Everything we’ve done has been about the primary tenets of health and safety,” Thorpe said. “It’s not about revenue generation. It’s not about attendance. It’s health and safety first.”
Arkansas did not make single-game tickets or multi-game packages available to the public in anticipation of the reduced capacity, but did sell about 33,000 season tickets.
Thorpe said 37-40 percent of account holders opted out of their tickets, which was actually on the low end of the industry standard. Some teams across the country experienced a 50-60 percent opt-out rate.
That allowed the UA to accommodate all season ticket holders who chose not to opt out with either a 5-, 3- or 2-game package, albeit some may not have received the same number of tickets as usual.
Fans will be in groupings of no more than 12 people. In general, every third row in the bowl will have people, with two seats between the aisle and the first group on the row and three seats between each group.
To enforce the seating arrangement, Chris Pohl - the UA Senior Associate AD for Guest Experience and Event Management - said stadium ushers will be “as friendly and courteous as we can.” They will have signs to remind fans about wearing masks and socially distancing, as well as a manifest that shows where everyone is supposed to sit.
“Fans need to sit in their assigned seats because there’s been a methodical process through the ticketing office to make sure that we have distanced everybody appropriately,” Pohl said. “We’re not going to be able to scoot around, perhaps, like we used to.”
The SEC requires each school to set aside 500 tickets for opposing fans. Some of those tickets could potentially be sold to the public if they aren’t all sold by the opponent, but Thorpe said he doesn’t anticipate that happening this year because the opponent’s allotment is usually around 2,000.
Students will still get their usual 10 percent allotment of tickets, which will be just 1,600 seats - down from 7,300. Access passes are still being sold and the claims information will be released soon, but all students who purchase a pass are guaranteed at least one game.
The student section will be spaced out similar to the rest of the stadium, with groups of two or four seats together. The UA has installed seat backs so the students’ available seats will be obvious.
The only tickets remaining for purchase through the UA are in a limited number of suites and loge boxes on a single-game basis. They are usually sold out, but a few have come available because of fan opt outs.
Cardboard cutouts of fans - which can be purchased through the UA - will be spread throughout the stadium to help with the visual aspect, plus sound effects like cheering and booing will be piped in over the PA system to try to create a normal gameday environment.
Seating capacity could potentially be increased during the season if the state of Arkansas moves to Phase III of its reopening plan and eliminates the 6 feet of social distancing requirement, but the UA is planning on 16,500 being the limit through the Dec. 5 finale against Alabama.
“Those who have tickets, use your tickets, this year more than ever, please,” Thorpe said. “If you can’t come for one reason or another, please give them to a friend, because we’re going to need all 16,500 in there yelling and screaming.”
Here are a few other notes about changes to the gameday experience for the 2020 season…
— With the reduced capacity, the UA will not have to change the traffic flow around the stadium. There will still be a perimeter that requires a parking pass for entry, but there will not be any one-way traffic. It will be much more similar to a men’s basketball game in that regard.
— The UA is also cutting the number of parking lots it utilizes on game day in half, with the only shuttle being one between the stadium and Lot 56 at the corner of Razorback Road and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
— Tailgating is prohibited on UA property.
— Fans are asked to enter and exit the gate designated on their tickets because that has been carefully distributed to make the process go as smoothly as possible and without logjams of people.
— Mobile ticketing is required. However, physical tickets are available on a case-by-case basis. Those who don’t have a smartphone can contact the UA for their tickets and there will be a customer service window on gamedays in the event of a dead phone battery or something along those lines.
— Masks are required inside Reynolds Razorback Stadium, with the only exceptions being those who have medical reasons not to wear one and children under 10. However, the Arkansas Department of Health “strongly recommends” kids still wear a mask, Pohl said.
— Hand sanitization stations have been added at all entries, inside and outside of restrooms, near concession stands and near merchandize stands.
— Plexiglass has been installed throughout the stadium to separate fans from working personnel, all of whom will have gone through a health screening that could include filling out a form, temperature checks and even COVID-19 testing, depending on the vendor.
— There will be no in-game activities on the field before, during or after games. Cheerleaders will be spread throughout the stadium and the band - with a limited number of members - will play from the stands.