Live sports returned to the Bluegrass Sunday evening in the form of a Louisville City FC soccer match against Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC. Even though the home team didn’t win the game (LouCity lost the match 3-1), the game itself isn’t necessarily the biggest story of the day. Instead, it’s the fact the team welcomed 4,850 socially-distanced fans into its brand-new, $65 million stadium for its debut game.
“Everybody in the country is watching us. We are literally the first sports event in front of fans in their home venue since this all happened,” organization president Brad Estes told The Courier Journal earlier this week. “We take it very seriously. It’s a challenge we’ve accepted. That’s one of the reasons we’ve kept it to 4,700 or 4,800 people — we want to make sure we do it properly.”
The team was technically given the go-ahead from Gov. Andy Beshear to host up to 7,500 fans inside Lynn Family Stadium (maximum capacity is listed at 15,304), but instead elected to further limit attendance in order to fully comply with the CDC’s social distancing guidelines. Each fan who decided to attend the match was also required to abide by a specific set of rules, including wearing a mask or face covering at all times and having his or her temperature checked upon arrival.
Officials at the brand new Lynn Family Stadium day they’ve taken a number of precautions, including limiting attendance to about 30 percent capacity. Here’s the temperature check. pic.twitter.com/B59yktLDCK
— Ryan Van Velzer (@RyanVanVelzer) July 12, 2020
Organizers for the event paid special attention to the potential “hot spots” of the stadium, including gateways, tunnels and lines for the restrooms and concession stands. For that reason, the concession stands were cash-only and featured a plexiglass divider separating the customers and employees. In order to prevent mass gatherings at the gates, fans were even given a specific arrival time and location based on their seat, as seen here:
Hand sanitizing stations were easily accessible throughout the stadium, and a video featuring the team discussing the mask requirement was played on a loop as a friendly reminder for all fans in attendance.
There are 40 of these around Lynn Family Stadium. It’s early, but a facility worker told me earlier the one he’d been watching had been used twice (once by a fan, once by a stadium employee). pic.twitter.com/m8oIRFu2E4
— Lucas Aulbach (@LucasAulbach) July 12, 2020
We hear you, @GovAndyBeshear.
Masks on at Lynn Family Stadium on Sunday. pic.twitter.com/4KEw7DX0WG
— LouCity FC (@loucityfc) July 9, 2020
Tape was placed across some of the stadium’s seats in order to help enforce social distancing in the stands.
Social distancing being taken seriously at Lynn Family Stadium in preparation for today’s stadium opener between Louisville City FC and Pittsburgh. pic.twitter.com/OHFjDyoiYW
— Tim Sullivan (@TimSullivan714) July 12, 2020
It’s too early to truly tell, but a quick social media search shows those who were at the match generally seem pleased by the safety measures and other precautions that were put in place. As the game ended, the Louisville players turned toward the stands and applauded the fans.
“No arrests, no ejections,” Eric Granger, general manager of ASM Global, the stadium operator, said after the game. “There were two or three people I had to ask to put their masks on, [but] I’ve worked a lot of openings, and none with COVID-19, and I couldn’t be more pleased.”
“It was unreal to be honest,” midfielder Devon “Speedy” Williams said of playing in front of fans once again. “It felt like a real professional game. Everything just felt right. Unfortunately we couldn’t get the win.”
Media and fans alike took to social media to showcase the sights and sounds from a historic day in Louisville. Take a look:
Congratulations to the owners and team at @lynnfmlystadium for all of the hard work they have put in over the past 2 years developing a world class stadium. We can’t wait to watch @loucityfc open the stadium today against the @RiverhoundsSC! pic.twitter.com/VMixTz5bSm
— ASM Global (@ASMGlobalLive) July 12, 2020
— LouCity FC (@loucityfc) July 12, 2020
— Eric Crawford (@ericcrawford) July 12, 2020
— LouCity FC (@loucityfc) July 12, 2020
Awesome Experience Today at @lynnfmlystadium – Kudos to @loucityfc @brad_estes @MitchtotheRied & their entire team. I felt safe, social distancing was great, & it was good to be back at a LIVE Sporting Event! #LouCityFC pic.twitter.com/CNEWU2QXot
— Joey Wagner (@JoeyJWagner) July 13, 2020
— Shannon McCracken (@cshannonmc) July 12, 2020
— Todd Lanham (@todd_lanham) July 13, 2020
Sunday’s game was technically the team’s second match of the season. LouCity’s first game, a 1-0 road win against North Carolina FC, fell in the days immediately leading into the coronavirus outbreak in the United States – March 7, 2020. The season was suspended just days later. Their next game is now scheduled for next Saturday, July 18 against Saint Louis FC. It will also be played inside Lynn Family Stadium, and kickoff is slated for 8 p.m.
Amid so much uncertainty and negative news, could Sunday’s match have been the first step toward welcoming fans back into sporting events? The general compliance from the LouCity fans themselves surely helped the cause.