Tuesday, Aug. 17, 2021 | 2:26 p.m.
The decision to become first American professional sports team to announce a policy requiring fans who attend home games to be vaccinated against COVID-19 was ultimately an easy choice for the Las Vegas Raiders, according to owner Mark Davis.
After speaking with Governor Steve Sisolak and hearing of his mandate for large-scale events in Nevada to either require vaccination or full-scale masks, Davis didn’t hesitate to choose the former for Allegiant Stadium.
“What we’ve got right now is certainty, at least for Raiders’ fans, that we’re going to have full capacity without masks in the stadium,” Davis said in a news conference detailing the plan on Tuesday. “For that certainty, I’m very thankful to the governor for coming up with something that would work for us.”
Davis said the team would offer full refunds to season-ticket holders who choose to not get vaccinated or rollovers to next season. He’s “very concerned” about losing fans over the vaccination requirement but described the decision as something bigger than any single person.
The Raiders preach health and safety as their “number-one” priority and believed they had an obligation to uphold that standard.
“The Raiders are proud to keep our fans, the team and the community safe,” team President Dan Ventrelle said. “We know it’s the right thing to do. We know it’s the right way to keep this stadium full all season and to get back to the game day experience our fans love and miss.”
The Raiders have partnered with CLEAR, a leading secure identity company, to implement the new rule. Fans attending games must download the CLEAR app, which asks them to upload a selfie and a picture of their vaccination card.
Image recognition software will then verify its authenticity and analyze biometric data before granting attendees a Health Pass to enter the venue. Jerome Pickett, CLEAR’s senior vice president for sports and entertainment, formerly worked as the chief security officer of the NBA and was integral in building the league’s bubble plan to finish the 2019-2020 season.
“Our mission at CLEAR is to create a safer and frictionless experience,” Pickett said. “We want to bring people back to doing the things they love.”
Local company Community Ambulance will set up game day vaccination sites where any unvaccinated fans can receive their first dose. Those fans will then be allowed to attend the game as long as they stay masked and wear a to-be-determined “identification mechanism,” likely a wristband.
Children 12 years old or younger, an age group not currently eligible for the vaccine, can attend games but must wear masks. All guidelines are in effect immediately, though the Raiders don’t play a home game until Sept. 13 against Baltimore Ravens to kick off the regular season.
“The timing of this is pretty fortunate for us because we don’t have another game for a month so that gives our fans time to go through the process of the CLEAR signing-up and whatever else,” Davis said.
Davis has not yet heard from any NFL owners as they mull their own situations for the upcoming season, though he expects to eventually. For the second straight season, the Raiders may prove to be trendsetters in how they’re dealing with the football season amid a pandemic.
A year ago, they were the first team to announce that no fans would be permitted to attend home games before the majority of the league also followed suit. They’ve also been aggressive internally, as everyone in the organization was subject to a mandatory vaccination policy in May, and the edict has since been extended to any full-time Allegiant Stadium employees and vendors.
Coach Jon Gruden recently said his entire staff and all but “four or five” players off of the original 90-man roster were vaccinated. The Atlanta Falcons became the first team to reach a 100% vaccination rate earlier this week, but Ventrelle described the Raiders as also “at the very top of the NFL and very proud of that.”
“I just support the decisions that are being made,” Gruden said Tuesday. “Every state, every team is probably going to have a different view on this. I support the decision that was made. I will be anxious to see as many Raiders’ fans as possible with no masks. That’s what I’m excited about. They can make more noise that way. I know it’s a touchy subject for a lot of people, but I support the direction we’re heading, and I encourage everybody that I know to get the vaccine and come and join us.”
Allegiant Stadium has already hosted one Raiders’ preseason game as well as a handful of other big events where masks were required but Davis learned it was “just impossible to police” for as many as 65,000 people. He couldn’t envision an entire season of enforcing mask rules.
Davis empathized with those who are uncomfortable getting the shot and may miss out on another season, but he is convinced the new mandate is the best option.
“I don’t know what else we can do for them,” Davis said. “When you look at it, it’s not about you. It’s about the person sitting next to you, and that’s who we’re trying to protect as well.”