901 FC prepare to host first game with fans in attendance since pandemic began


MEMPHIS, Tenn. — As the COVID-19 positivity rate continues to climb, and hospitalizations increase, the Memphis 901 FC plan to host their first game since the pandemic hit, and it won’t be an empty house.

The numbers aren’t exact, but it’s a fact that attending a sporting event outdoors is much safer than indoors during the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’ve seen anywhere from three times less likely to 19 times less likely to be infected,” said Memphis City Council member Dr. Jeff Warren, who’s also on the local COVID-19 task force. “In general, being outside, you’re much safer than if you’re inside.”

After working with the Shelby County Health Department to establish safety protocols, the 901 FC will host a maximum of 1,000 fans Saturday when they take on the Charlotte Independence.

The team set up staggered entry times, temperature checks, socially distant seating and other coronavirus-related precautions, but it admitted to operating on a learning curve.

“It’s gonna morph,” Memphis 901 FC President Craig Unger said. “We are going to be activating this plan in real time. There’s no practice run.”

A minor league soccer team looking for its first victory might not sound like a big deal in the grand scheme of the sports world, but health experts will be watching closely Saturday.

“If all of a sudden, we see spikes coming out of 901 FC games, we’ll be looking at that and trying to measure it and track it,” Dr. Warren said. “If people are going to those games and getting sick, that’s gonna tell us about football in the fall.”

The 901 FC could potentially play a major role in how Mid-South fans can watch the Tigers and Grizzlies in coming months.

Just like residents are expected to follow mandates from local government, the team can install rules before playing games, but COVID-19 safety and transmission will ultimately come down to execution of fans.

“We have to ensure and our fans have to ensure with us that these things will happen in order for us to maintain this and see where we go,” Unger said.

“If we’re going to get through this, we’ve all got to believe that we’re in this together, and we’ve got to help each other,” Dr. Warren said.

Kickoff at AutoZone Park is set for 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

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