BBVA Stadium participated in the Red Alert initiative Sept. 1 to draw attention to the financial plight of the live events industry. (Courtesy BBVA Stadium).

Houston MLS team will welcome 3,000 fans back to BBVA Stadium on Saturday

BBVA Stadium is poised to become the first big league venue in Houston to host an event with fans in the stands since the pandemic shut down sports and entertainment facilities across North America.

On Saturday night, Major League Soccer’s Houston Dynamo will take on Minnesota United FC at the 22,039-seat facility.

Attendance is restricted to 3,000 fans, which equates to 13.6% of stadium capacity, said Juan Rodriguez, executive vice president and general manager.

The Sugarland Skeeters, an independent baseball team playing in Houston’s suburbs, played games this summer with fans in attendance, but none of the city’s big league teams have taken that step. That all changes Saturday.

At BBVA Stadium, fans will be asked a series of COVID-19-related questions and have their temperatures checked before they enter the building. Face coverings are required and the Dynamo will have people monitoring the concourses to ensure fans are wearing them. Fans can take them off temporarily to eat and drink.

“We’re excited. Now we just need personal responsibility to fall in place,” Rodriguez said.

Over the past month, at least four MLS teams have played home matches with fans in attendance after the league completed a tournament in Orlando marking the return of play in 2020 for the organization.

The Dynamo completed a retrofit of their 8-year-old venue to meet Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, local and state guidelines. Fans will be restricted to sitting in the upper bowl with social distance measures in place.

The lower bowl has just 12 rows, and MLS has required a protective zone between players on the field and spectators. The setup left two to three rows of seats remaining for fans, and team officials thought it would be a better experience for ticket holders to sit in the upper bowl.

Texas law allows public assembly venues to reopen at 50% capacity. The Dynamo played it safe by settling at 25%, and after completing a new layout with the proper spacing, they arrived at a little under 14%, Rodriguez said.

Fans are spaced apart appropriately, Rodriguez said. Seats that are not part of the restricted manifest are banded together to prevent attendees from sitting there, he said.

The 33 suites along the east and west sidelines will be open. The 16-person units will be limited to eight people. The Dynamo worked extensively with local health officials to map out those procedures to ensure the safety of suite patrons, Rodriguez said.

As part of the safety protocols, the Dynamo partnered with Seatz to introduce a mobile application for fans to order concessions on their mobile devices for in-seat delivery.

Rivalry Technologies, the developer, also has deals with the MLB Astros, NFL Texans, the University of Houston and Rice University, according to its website.

“We’re trying to do the right things to make it convenient and easy for the fans,” Rodriguez said. “Even before COVID, lines were something we all try to avoid. The mobile app is another (touchless tool) so fans don’t have to leave their seats. Soccer is the one sport that if you leave for a second, you may miss that one key moment.”

Fans can also buy food and drink at concession stands. In both cases, the menu will be limited, Rodriguez said.

Dynamo season-ticket holders had first crack at tickets for Saturday’s game before the rest went on sale Tuesday for the general public. Three days before the match, the team’s website showed a few dozen tickets for sale, priced from $17 for end zone seats to $50 for sideline seats.

A message on the website said fan surveys taken by the team showed that more than 60% of fans would be interested in attending matches at BBVA Stadium in a socially distanced setting.

The Dynamo could potentially host six matches at home over the rest of the season, Rodriguez said. The stadium is also home to the National Women’s Soccer League Houston Dash. Their first game in front of fans is Sept. 26.

BBVA Stadium and the Dynamo are part of the Houston Events and Venues Task Force, formed in April, which has weekly meetings to discuss common issues across the board as facilities prepare to reopen. Together, they came up with the Houston Clean Pledge, a set of guidelines for city venues to follow during the pandemic.

“We’ve got to a great place where the (coronavirus) numbers are going down and everybody is feeling good,” Rodriguez said.