The Patriots are developing a plan that would allow fans to attend games this season, with seating limited to about 20% of Gillette Stadium's capacity, according to a letter to season ticket holders obtained by WBUR and a post on the team's website.
The plan would require face coverings and allow fans to sit in groups of as many as 10 people, with at least 6 feet of distance between groups to reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus. The first eight rows of the stadium would be closed.
The letter cautioned that the team's plan is "subject to state and local approvals." Mark Elfman, who chairs the Board of Selectmen in Foxborough, where the stadium is located, said he had not yet heard about the plan. State officials did not immediately respond to a WBUR inquiry.
The Pats could be the first of New England's major league sports teams to return to play in front of crowds. The Red Sox will open an abbreviated season at an empty Fenway Park July 24. The Celtics resume a suspended season July 31 at Disney World in Florida, where the NBA is staging fan-free games. And the Bruins will continue their season Aug. 2 in Canada, where the NHL is holding contests without audiences.
The Patriots are scheduled to play preseason home games Aug. 13 and Aug. 20, though the first is likely to be canceled, according to multiple reports. They begin the regular season Sept. 13 at home against the Miami Dolphins.
The team previously signaled its intent to fill some seats, telling season ticket holders in a letter last week that the club is "excited to welcome fans to Gillette Stadium in 2020," without providing details, according to an NBC Sports report. Last month, the Patriots offered season ticket holders who have elevated health risks an option to skip the upcoming season while holding their seats for 2021. All season ticket holders now have the same option, according to the letter sent Tuesday.
For fans who want to be in the stands, it is unclear how the Patriots would assign seats and games. The vast majority of Gillette Stadium's 65,878 seats are reserved by season ticket holders, meaning the team has sold far more tickets than are likely to be available.
In its latest letter, the team said "it is unlikely that Season Ticket Members will have the opportunity to attend every home game in 2020. Additionally, Season Ticket Members should expect that if tickets are available, they will be given access to locations within the stadium that are different from their existing seating assignments."
"We are currently working on an updated seating manifest, and we will communicate forthcoming details about ticketing inventory, pricing, refunds, and the allocation process as soon as the final number of available seats is confirmed," the Patriots wrote.