Topline

Fans attending Buffalo Bills games this upcoming NFL season will have to show proof they’ve been vaccinated for Covid-19 using New York’s Excelsior Pass vaccine passport system—a phone app where users can upload proof of vaccinations—making the Bills the first team to enact such a policy as the NFL eyes a return to full capacity for games this fall.

Key Facts

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz (D) announced Tuesday the Bills would be allowed to play games at full stadium capacity, but only if fans show proof of vaccination by using their Excelsior Pass vaccine passports—a decision he said he’s discussed with the Bills.

The state set up the system as a first of its kind vaccine passport in the U.S., allowing for businesses and residents to use it for areas where vaccinations are a requirement.

The Bills did not have any fans for regular season games during 2020—the most successful season the team had in decades.

The decision means the Bills are the first NFL team to adopt a vaccine passport system, and comes after NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said the league expects full capacity at all its stadiums for the 2021 season.

Crucial Quote

“There’s no God-given right to attend a football game,” Poloncarz said at a news conference Tuesday, noting it’s a voluntary decision to attend games.

Key Background

The NFL left it up to teams to decide capacity restrictions for the 2020 season, which led to massively different scenes for games depending on the team hosting. The Bills were one of a handful of teams that didn’t allow fans at all during 2020, but allowed for a limited crowd to attend the two playoff games the team hosted. It will likely still be up to teams to decide how fans are vetted for entry to games for the 2021 season, but the Buffalo decision means the NFL certainly won’t have a uniform policy for all its fans, given states like Florida and Texas have banned vaccine passports, as many Republicans have slammed the idea as overreach—even though it’s largely private businesses that would enact restrictions and use vaccine passports.

Tangent

The NBA’s Miami Heat have opened two lower bowl sections for fully vaccinated fans, requiring fans to show proof they’ve been fully vaccinated for at least two weeks before attending a game.

Big Number

71,608. That’s the seating capacity of the Bills stadium, which was recently renamed Highmark Stadium.

Surprising Fact

The Bills’ star quarterback, Josh Allen, caused a stir when he said on a podcast released last week he was “still debating” whether to get vaccinated. Poloncarz said it was not within his power to apply a vaccine mandate to Bills players or staff. The NFL is not requiring Covid vaccines for players or coaches.

Further Reading

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis Bans Vaccine Passports Amid GOP Pushback (Forbes)

Texas Gov. Abbott Bans Vaccine Passports (Forbes)

Miami Heat to open vaccinated-only sections for fans on April 1 (ESPN)

Josh Allen “debating” whether to get COVID-19 vaccine (NBC Sports)

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