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Real Salt Lake canceled home opening game

(Workers at Rio Tinto Stadium placing social distance reminders on each seat. Courtesy, Taran Meyer, RSL)

SANDY – Soccer fans in Utah will have to wait a while longer.   Officials with Real Salt Lake canceled their game with LAFC as players on both sides are protesting the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.  Club officials say they had sold enough tickets to nearly reach their limit of 5,000 fans, and hundreds were actually in attendance when the team broke the news.

Real Salt Lake still has games against Portland, Seattle, Minnesota, and Colorado on their schedule.  So, how do you keep that many people in one spot safe from the spread of COVID-19?

This wouldn’t have been the first time professional sports has been played at the RioT after the global pandemic started.  The club hosted two Real Monarch games in early July, and Spokesman Taran Meyer says both events were huge successes.

Meyer says, “We didn’t run into any issues with the people that were there.  The feedback we got from the fans that were in attendance was nothing but positive, and I don’t say that lightly.”

However, Meyer acknowledges attendance was much smaller for those two games.  One had over 800 fans in the stadium, and the other had less than 600.  Still, Meyer says they used what they learned from those games to increase the security measure they’re implementing for 2020 home games.

For instance, they’ve mapped out a very precise entry and exit strategy for all fans.  Those sitting closest to the field are going to enter first, while those sitting higher up will enter last.  When the game is over, that order will flip.  Meyer says this plan has to be timed perfectly, so, gone are the days when a fan can show up late for a game and still get their seat.

“Whoever bought a ticket, they have an entry time on your ticket,” Meyer says.

(One of the social distancing reminders fans can expect to see at an RSL game. Courtesy Taran Meyer, RSL)

Of course, there will also be all of the other safety measures people have come to expect in the “new normal.”  Everyone will get their temperature checked at the gate, fans will be required to stick to their assigned seats, and fan groups will have to stick together without mingling with any other people.  Also, the first seven rows have to be empty so the fans don’t get too close to the players.

Meyer says, “We have a number of staff in each aisle and each section that will be monitoring things like that.”

Plus, they’ve had to significantly limit what they sell at the concession stands.

“Not all concession stands will be open, and there will be no made-to-order meals.  It’s a lot of general items that are already prepackaged and ready to go,” he says.

Not every MLS game will look like what we may see in Rio Tinto.  Some cities will decide not to have fans, depending on safety recommendations from their state.  However, Meyer says the county, the state, and the league have all approved RSL’s plans.