With approval from the New York State government, the Buffalo Bills will play in front of their hometown fans for the first time this season.
As of Wednesday, Bills Mafia is back in business.
The Buffalo Bills announced that they will welcome 6,772 fans to Bills Stadium for the team’s upcoming appearance in the AFC Wild Card playoffs on January 9 or 10. It will be the first professional sporting event staged in New York State with fans in attendance since the Buffalo Sabres’ March 9 tilt against Washington at KeyBank Center.
In the wake of the ongoing health crisis, Bills Mafia, one of the NFL’s most passionate fanbases, has been forced to view the Bills’ historic season from the outside. Buffalo (12-3) currently holds the second seed on the AFC playoff bracket and won its first division title in 25 years. Now, a limited number of fans will play witness to the first playoff game at Bills Stadium since the 1996 Wild Card round.
“We know that the fans have been waiting 25 years to be able to attend a playoff game and we are so excited to be able to allow the limited amount of fans that we can,” Bills co-owner Kim Pegula said in a statement on the team website. “I want to just say that we are so hopeful that there will be many more games that all fans can attend.”
Bills fans recently showed their love and appreciation after one of the biggest wins in franchise history, greeting the team at Buffalo Niagara International Airport following their AFC East-clinching victory in Denver.
The plan to invite fans was made in conjunction with the New York State government, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo. According to Ryan Dunleavy and Bernadette Hogan of the New York Post, the invitation for fans is “the first step in a first-in-the-nation pilot program launched by New York aimed at “re-opening businesses safely” during COVID-19”. The Post has also reported that Cuomo himself plans to attend the game.
According to the Bills’ website, 6,200 tickets (the rest going to the NFL and its representatives) will be available to season ticket holders, notified on a seniority basis. Attendees will be required to undergo a rapid test for COVID-19 (at a cost of $63) and contact tracing will follow after the game. Fans are also required to wear face coverings and social distance during their time in the stadium. Cash transactions and tailgating are prohibited. Should the Bills advance to the AFC Divisional playoff round and fans are again permitted, those who attended the Wild Card game cannot make the return trip.
“We want to just encourage everyone out there, all our fans that we just need to do our part,” Kim Pegula said. “Wear your mask, being compliant to CDC guidelines, social distancing. We all know what needs to be done, we just all need to do our part to get it done so that we can have everyone back in our stadium soon.”
Buffalo will host their final home game of the season behind closed doors on Sunday afternoon against the Miami Dolphins (1 p.m. ET, CBS).
Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags