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The New Orleans Saints have tried offering the vaccination carrot long enough, and now the team is breaking out the stick.
Days after becoming the first team to require a vaccination or a 72-hour negative test to attend a game, the Saints raised the bar by announcing that the team would not offer refunds to ticketholders who refuse to provide proof of the vaccine or the test. It's a significant step forward in positioning vaccination as the "norm."
The ticketholder now has the burden of proving their virus-free status, rather than the team accommodating their choice not to be vaccinated.
"We’ve received all necessary local and state approvals to host a full stadium of fans and with that in mind, we are not offering a refund or opt out option this season," Saints senior vice president of communications Greg Bensel said in a statement. "We remain optimistic that, with our community’s help and as vaccination rates increase, these restrictions will no longer be necessary as the season progresses."
Louisiana is suffering under a Delta variant-incited spike of infections and hospitalizations, and in response, New Orleans mayor LaToya Cantrell required vaccination or proof of a negative COVID test for indoor venues including the Superdome. Louisiana also has a mask mandate which extends to Sept. 1 unless extended by Gov. John Bel Edwards.
The Saints' vaccination policy for fans isn't as stringent as the one recently announced by the Raiders — Las Vegas does not give fans the option of providing a negative test — but New Orleans' decision to put a price tag on a decision to remain unvaccinated and untested ups the ante. Other teams, particularly those in hard-hit states, are likely to watch reaction to the New Orleans and Las Vegas directives and act accordingly.
In related news, the NFL hosted a conference call for teams Tuesday night to update them on the status of COVID protocols and the prospects for further recommendations or mandates in the face of the Delta variant. These calls have been common occurrences throughout the pandemic, but as Sports Business Journal notes, this is the first since the Saints and Raiders laid down their new requirements.
While further vaccine recommendations or even mandates are likely forthcoming in the weeks leading up to the season, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy told SBJ that there is no expectation that capacity will be limited at any venue this season. “Just as last year there were different fan experiences," McCarthy said, "there will be different fan experiences this year based on guidance from local officials and public health authorities.”
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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