| The Tuscaloosa News
Ripple effects from the COVID-19 pandemic will vastly reduce the carnival-like spectacle for next Saturday’s 2020 University of Alabama home football opener in Tuscaloosa.
In size, Saturday will more resemble a tepid A-Day, pre-2007 — when the arrival of coach Nick Saban inspired a record crowd of 92,138 for the spring practice culmination — because just 20 percent of the 101,821 full capacity of Bryant-Denny Stadium will be allowed into the game, following CDC and Alabama Department of Public Health guidelines.
And to provide social distancing: No tailgating. No Walk of Fame. No Elephant Stomp. The Million Dollar Band will perform with just 96 members, instead of all 400, and only from the stands. There’ll be no half-time performance on the field.
And while the 20,000-ish ticketholders will still make cheerful noise, among that murmur won’t be the cry of hawkers offering fistfuls of crimson paper, face value or market, by Rama Jama’s, or up and down The Strip, where passers-by might be seeking a pair or more, looking to hook up with a seller. All ticketing is electronic.
For the 2:30 p.m. kickoff, with Texas A&M lined up to oppose, CBS will broadcast the game, so that other 80 percent will have to tune in. They’ll be joined by the tens of thousands more who in an ordinary season make tailgating their weekend, setting up in the shadows of Denny Chimes and Bryant-Denny Stadium, trailers towing portable parties, unloading widescreen TVs, smoking meats on grills, cracking open coolers stocked full with enough to share, karaoke machines aimed at in-between times, and friends new and old invited to sit down on rows of folding chairs.
“I think one of the reasons why we opted out of using our season tickets was because we knew the whole game-day experience would be drastically different — no tailgating, no telling where our seats would be,” and so on, said Susan McKenzie Gailes, of Huntsville. “So we plan to celebrate wildly at home. Hope the neighbors don’t call the police on us.”
Ordinarily it takes a loss to Auburn, or heartbreak late in a championship playoff game, to bruise the Crimson Tide collective body this deeply. Some are struggling to collect the scarce tickets anyway, such as Tommy and Sarah Ray of Huntsville, who have consecutive-game-attendance streaks they want to keep rolling: He’s seen 605 straight, dating back to 1972, and she’s up to 185, every game since coach Saban arrived.
Not being season ticketholders, they’re having to scramble more than usual, though they have secured the away opener Missouri, and this Saturday’s Texas A&M, along with Georgia and Tennessee. For the other six, Tommy Ray’s reaching out to brokers, friends and other connections; as a last result, he’ll stand outside a game and figure a way in. Though he does revel in the festival atmosphere on the way to Bryant-Denny, once inside, he’s all about what’s on the field, so the diminished band, the lack of other outside activity won’t bother him.
“My wife’s usually the one that makes the noise,” Ray said, laughing.
Maurice and Janet James of Mobile aren’t quite in the same stratosphere as Tommy Ray, but they have been to an estimated 350 games over the decades, 95 percent of them home. It’s not just the lost atmosphere that’s worrying them, but the expense and uncertainty, creating dilemmas for even long-time season ticketholders.
The Jameses annually make a ceremony of their Tide Pride tickets’ arrival, setting up a panorama of Bama paraphernalia at their home, shakers, cups, houndstooth decor and more, to greet their UPS driver. That little tradition is gone with the advent of electronic tickets, Janet James said.
It wouldn’t be happening this year anyway, as they’ve opted out for 2020.
“The way they were offering packages, there was no guarantee you would get the games you requested,” she said. A typical home game weekend for them meant bringing the RV up from the port city, and storing it for the season at Lake Lurleen, a quiet retreat from the hectic atmosphere directly around campus, but ripe with plenty of fellow traveling Tide fans.
“With each package, there were four tiers of prices,” she said, “and I’m assuming the least expensive could be upper deck.” So between the hundreds for seats that might not have been choice, to possibly less-favored games, and the added expenses for travel and camping, “to go to two games would have cost more than it ordinarily would have for a whole season,” she said.
An email from UA advised they wouldn’t be punished for opting out this season, and would be able to get their old seats next year, so the Jameses are holding out hope for better game days in 2021.
Here’s a look at the changes at Bryant-Denny for 2020:
• Ticketing: For those who do hold the precious mobile tickets, but still have questions, there will be customer service tents in the lot at the northwest corner of Bryant-Denny, and at the corner of Paul W. Bryant Drive and 10th Avenue opposite the stadium.
Ticket holders received notifications via email, allowing for download to Google Pay Wallet, for Android operating system phones, and to Apple Wallet, for iPhones. As they approach gates, fans will open their digital wallet, then hold their smartphone near the gate scanners, to facilitate contactless entry.
Printed copies of tickets will not be accepted. Anyone who does not have a smartphone should contact the Tide Pride office at 205-348-6113 in advance for options. Those wishing to transfer tickets can do so, and post tickets on StubHub, the official fan-to-fan marketplace of Alabama Athletics.
• Parking: Parking passes for 2020 have also gone mobile. Customers will receive an email from Tide Pride with a link to download parking passes to their digital wallet. Smartphones will again be scanned at lot entries, on the day of the game.
For information on reserved parking for non-Tide Pride lots, see www.uagameday.com.
• GuideSafe: All fans and working staff will be required to present a green cleared check GuideSafe Event Passport before entry. GuideSafe is an app created by the University of Alabama System for help in tracking COVID-19. Being HIPAA compliant, GuideSafe does not track specific locations, but is a tool to report COVID-19 symptoms and exposure. There will be a single Healthcheck game day web link. It will require an email address, cellphone number, body temperature, and reports of any symptoms or exposure.
Fans can secure the cleared passport up to 48 hours before kickoff. For downloads and further information, see www.guidesafe.org.
• PPE: All fans will be required to wear a face covering on entering Bryant-Denny. Some disposable masks will be available at gates. All working staff will be required to wear a face covering or face shield, and ticket scanners will stand behind Plexiglass shields.
• Hand sanitizing stations: At each entry gate and throughout Bryant-Denny.
• Concession stands: Every other register will be open, and fitted with Plexiglass screens. A limited menu of prepackaged foods, water and Coca-Cola products will be available. Cashless transactions are encouraged. High contact stations will be sanitized every two hours.
• Premium areas: Buffet service will shift to served stations, for Champions Club, Terrace Club, Ivory Club, North Zone, South Zone, Skyboxes and Field Suites. Wristbands will be given at ground level, after patrons scan their tickets.
• Social distancing: To be maintained throughout Bryant-Denny as fully as possible, including the limited field access, which doesn’t allow the band to perform at half, in accordance with SEC and NCAA recommendations.
• Stadium entry: Fans will be lined up to walk through metal detectors, with markers indicating 6-foot intervals. Before passing through the metal detectors, fans must show their green GuideSafe Passport to a staff member. Anyone with a red screen will be denied entry.
• Cooling fans and water towers: Not available this season. Water will be available for purchase at concession stands, and fans can bring in a sealed bottle of water that fits within their clear bag.
• Stadium Club, Scholarship Club and A-Club Rooms: Not available for 2020, due to social distancing guidelines.
• Restrooms: Facilities will be regularly cleaned and disinfected with electrostatic sprayers before games. During the game, attendants will regularly clean and disinfect flush valves and sink handles. Urinals and stalls will be taped off to encourage social distancing.
• Tide Pride: After tickets are allocated, all Tide Pride members with an account credit for prior contributions and payments will have options to 1) receive a full or partial refund of remaining credit, or 2) donate all or a part of their account credit to the Crimson Core Fund. Refunds requested will be processed within six weeks.
• Crimson Core Fund: A one-year fund set up by the Crimson Tide Foundation to support the direct needs of student-athletes through scholarships, nutrition, academic support, strength and conditioning, and more. All Crimson Core Fund donations will receive 3 priority points for every $100 donated. For more, see www.crimsontidefoundation.org/crimsoncore.
• Crimson Tide Access: Fan upgrades offered in previous seasons will not be available for 2020.
• Gate number changes: All gates have been renumbered at Bryant-Denny. Electronic tickets should have the new gate numbers indicated.
For more, see www.uagameday.com.