High school football returns this week and teams are cheering the opportunity to return to the field, even if that means adapting to novel coronavirus regulations.
The Lafayette Parish School System released COVID-19 guidelines for football games Monday, mirroring guidance previously released by the Louisiana High School Athletic Association. The most notable change is that stadium capacity will be limited to 25%, reducing the number of fans and family members that can attend and dealing a blow to revenues from ticket sales.
Tickets for public high school games will be available for pre-sale only; no gameday ticket sales will be allowed. Each school is responsible for determining its own pricing, purchase prioritizing and ticket distribution. Each set of tickets will be assigned section, row and seat numbers and there will be a four-seat distance, roughly 6 feet, between each seating group, the LPSS release said.
Attendees are required to wear masks and only pre-packaged or sealed items will be sold at concessions stands. Bands, cheerleaders and dance teams will be allowed to perform at home games, but masks must be worn except when performing on the field, the statement said.
Lafayette Christian Academy, the 2019 Division III state champion, is celebrating its home opener Friday against the Class 5A State Champion Acadiana High Wreckin’ Rams; this will be the first time a 5A school has played at Knight Stadium, LCA President Jay Miller said.
Miller said after months of uncertainty the kids are relieved to have the opportunity to play.
“You could see the excitement in their face and eyes. Football is not a seasonal sport, it’s every day, all day, all year for these kids and they put their heart and soul into it for four years at the high school level. Once they realized the possibility of no season was in front of us and then to see it turn into a season, even modified a bit, they were ecstatic,” he said.
The only disappointed group is the fans, he said. Available tickets plummeted from around 3,500 to 750, with first right of refusal going to the families of football players, cheerleaders, band members and other students involved in the game. Acadiana High was offered about 200 tickets, Miller said.
Knight Field won’t have tapped off seating areas, but volunteers will be available to help ensure social distancing is maintained between groups and reminders will be made over the loudspeaker asking families to stick with their pods and sit apart, he said.
Staff and volunteers who normally sell tickets on gameday will also be available to help temperature screen guests and complete other tasks.
Ticket prices, like at many high schools, were also raised from $10 to $20 per ticket to help make up revenue the team is losing this season. LCA recently invested in a $1 million turf field and added 1,200 seats to the stadium and 250 additional parking spots, basing the budget on previous years’ revenues, the president said.
LCA was originally projecting to make around $40,000 to $50,000 from its game with Acadiana, but now with limited seating capacity, ticket revenues look closer to $10,000 or $15,000. It’s just the new financial reality, Miller said.
“The seating capacity limitations and some of those things -- they are what they are. Whatever we have to do to see these kids get on the field we’re willing to do,” Miller said.
Nic Jeffers, LPSS director of athletics, physical education and health, said Lafayette public school ticket prices are increasing $2 at most schools to help make up lost funds. Each school independently determined how to prioritize ticket sales and the maximum number of tickets per student, he said.
Some schools are also partnering with VSN Louisiana, a high school sports digital network, to stream the games to fans through a monthly subscription service. Each team will have a registration link to earn credit for subscriptions and receive a portion of the proceeds, Jeffers said, another way teams are hoping to make money back though the physical fan experience is limited.
Coordinating the season between the district’s combination of 4A and 5A schools, and their respective stakeholders, was a “large undertaking,” but Jeffers said they’re confident everything can go smoothly and they hope the teams can give spectators a good show.
“I think people are craving some sort of normalcy and I don’t know anything more normal than football in the fall,” he said.