Soccer stadium could hold key to fans attending Kentucky Derby

Soccer stadium could hold key to fans attending Kentucky Derby
Photo: EM Dash Photography
In his daily press briefing on Tuesday, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear mentioned the 2020 Kentucky Derby and its attendance, saying he would like to see it pared down from the 39% general admission and 43% outdoor seating capacity previously proposed by Churchill Downs and approved by Beshear.

“What we do want to see is where we are a week from now,” Beshear said. “But do I believe that if done right, there can be some fans? Then yes. I do believe there can be some. And the level would really depend on where we are with the virus and then the plan.”

The briefing came after the announcement that the Indianapolis 500 Indycar race will be held without fans, after a previous announcement of 50% capacity, similar to the Derby plan. However, Beshear did praise one venue for its successful use of social distancing: Louisville’s Lynn Family Stadium, home of the Louisville City FC soccer team.

Jonathan Lintner, Louisville City’s director of communications and a former editor-in-chief of Horse Racing Nation, said that, despite holding four games with more than 4,000 fans in the stands, a COVID-19 outbreak has not been traced back to the stadium, which has a capacity of more than 15,000.
“Our requirements include temperature checks at the gate, everybody has to wear a mask and six feet of distancing between family pods or groups of people who come to the games together,” Lintner said. “So you kind of get a checkerboard effect in the stands because nobody is sitting immediately beside you or immediately in front of or behind.”

One key difference between the Churchill Downs plan and the protocols in place at Lynn Family Stadium is the required wearing of masks. In the Derby plan, fans will be “consistently and frequently encouraged” to do so.

At Louisville City FC games, masks are required, and fans who are seen without one are given one warning, then ejected from the game upon second offense.

“Unfortunately, some people have still refused or thought we weren't watching anymore and took it off,” Lintner said. “Then we had to give them the red card and escort them out, so that has happened a few times. We’ve been pretty tight on this.”

One advantage that Louisville City FC has over the Churchill plan is that attendees are season ticket holders who already have an attachment to the team and an interest in making sure the event goes off safely. That might not be the case at the Derby, which has paused sale of infield tickets but still plans to have general admission.

“The motivation is there to follow all the rules,” Lintner said. “I don’t know how that translates to the Derby, right? Because there’s not a team to cheer for, your loyalty isn’t toward the Derby maybe as much as having a good time and trying to create that traditional Derby experience.”

Even so, different game times have led Louisville City FC to prepare for rowdier crowds. After the first home game took place on a Sunday evening, the second was on a Saturday night.

“We put out a video from our team president,” Lintner said, “basically preaching continued diligence because, as he put it, you might behave a little bit differently on a Sunday at five as you would on a Saturday at eight. Luckily, things went well.”

The Kentucky Derby is scheduled for Sept. 5. The plan previously submitted by Churchill Downs and approved by the governor can be found here.

Lynn Family Stadium’s detailed protocols can be found here.

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