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Bills to host 6,700-plus fans at home playoff game, with negative coronavirus test required

The Bills faced the Steelers this month with the stands empty in Orchard Park, N.Y. (Adrian Kraus/AP)

The Buffalo Bills were granted permission by state officials to allow a little more than 6,700 fans to attend their opening-round NFL playoff game in Orchard Park, N.Y., under strict protocols that require attendees to test negative for the coronavirus.

The Bills announced the plan Wednesday, with the exact number of fans permitted to be 6,772. New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) wrote on Twitter that fans also will be subject to contact tracing after the game. According to Cuomo, the arrangement came about under an agreement among the Bills, the NFL and the state.

“The stadium is outdoors,” Cuomo wrote. “Every fan must test negative before game, wear a mask [and] social distance. There will be postgame contact tracing. To Bills fans — be smart.”

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The Bills did not have fans at home games during the regular season. This will be their first home playoff game since December 1996. Bills Stadium has a capacity of about 72,000.

It is believed that this will be the first professional sporting event in the United States that will require all fans in attendance to test negative for the coronavirus to gain entry. NBA teams that are allowing fans into arenas this season reportedly are requiring those who sit within 30 feet of the court to test negative under a league directive. At least one English Premier League soccer team, Everton, reportedly required fans to have tested negative for the coronavirus within the previous 36 hours.

The NFL has required fans who attend games this season to wear masks. There also has been a leaguewide policy for teams to close and cover the rows of seats closest to the field at all stadiums. Teams have had distancing measures and other protocols in effect for fans. NFL games have been played in empty or partially filled stadiums.

League officials said Wednesday that the NFL this weekend will surpass the 1 million mark for attendance this season. That would be an average of about 3,900 fans per game for the 256-game regular season scheduled to conclude Sunday.

The Bills are the AFC’s No. 2 seed and would host a first-round game on Jan. 9 or Jan. 10. The team said that all fans “will be required to obtain a negative COVID test result” through BioReference Laboratories, the NFL’s testing partner, to attend the game. BioReference will charge fans $63 per test and fans will have to pay “all associated costs” as part of their ticket purchase, per the team.

The Bills also said they would make approximately 6,200 tickets available for purchase by season-ticket holders, based on seniority.