LOS ANGELES – The 2021 season is the NFL’s biggest ever with a 17-game schedule, but differing COVID-19 guidelines by teams have confused many fans.
The NFL has allowed each of the 32 teams to enforce its own guidelines, and President Joe Biden recently stopped short of requiring fans to get inoculated to attend sporting events. Thus far, the Las Vegas Raiders are the only NFL franchise to require proof of vaccination to enter Allegiant Stadium.
Jared Carver of Phoenix isn’t your typical fan who hits the road to catch a few games each year – he’s a sports bettor who travels the country for every sport under the sun.
“I would go to a baseball game on Friday, college football on Saturday, another baseball game on Sunday, and then finish off with Sunday night football,” Carver said, “and sometimes if a college football game was during the day, I’d be able to catch a baseball game that night, too. So that’s five cities within three different days.”
For Carver, it’s no issue to follow these guidelines, in part because it was so tough to miss out on the 2020 Olympics, which COVID-19 delayed until this year.
He was barred from the Olympic trials this past summer because his vaccination status wasn’t up to standard, so he’s not willing to let that happen again. Carver is on the road far more than most fans, traveling to games to gather better data for his bets, which is how he makes his living.
More casual fans also are traveling as the NFL season picks up steam. Fan clubs organize group hotel rates and airfare to travel all over the country to support their teams at away games. Ty Vazquez, co-founder of BirdGang, dedicated to the Arizona Cardinals, said the travel group hasn’t imposed any rules about vaccination.
“We leave getting your vaccine to everybody else,” he said. “That’s not even been a subject within our group. Everybody’s just got to make their own decision to do whatever makes them feel safe.”
In Week 1, about 200 fans traveled with BirdGang to Nashville for the Cardinals’ beatdown of the Tennessee Titans. Nissan Stadium, which holds 69,143, does not require masks or proof of vaccination. BirdGang plans to travel to Dallas at the end of the year, with 100 fans already expressing interest in going.
But the group has taken precautions, canceling some parties and finding alternative activities for Friday nights, when they typically arrive for an away game.
“This year, we got a secure and safe location in Nashville to go line dancing,” Vazquez said. “Saturdays are usually pep rallies in whatever city we’re in. (Cardinals owner) Michael Bidwill and his wife always make an effort to come out and take pictures with the fans, too. And then on Sundays, we have one big all-you-can-eat tailgate before the games. The games themselves are kind of an afterthought because of all the festivities we put on as part of the trip.”
Despite 80,000 locations offering free COVID-19 vaccines for the past five months, 80 million eligible Americans are not vaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“It’s hard to enforce a mask mandate,” Carver said. “I was out at a Rams preseason game last month and you’re supposed to wear a mask. But … not many people were.”