The Carolina Panthers NFL team welcomed almost 6,000 fans on Sunday after receiving an exemption from health authorities to exceed North Carolina’s current capacity limits.

The attendance at Bank of America Stadium increased for the first time this season for the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The official attendance was announced as 5,815.

Under North Carolina’s Phase 3 plan, which was extended on Tuesday to go through to December 4, spectators at sporting events at large outdoor facilities with a seating capacity of 10,000 or more are limited to seven per cent of the facility’s total seating capacity to curb the spread of COVID-19.

For the 75,412-capacity Bank of America Stadium, that means the Panthers can have 5,240 fans at games, which has been the case for the past three home games since October 4.

However, state and local health officials agreed the team could distribute a limited number of additional upper level tickets for the game while remaining in compliance with the governor’s order. The Panthers originally only made seats available on the lower bowl and club level.

The Panthers’ first home game of the season on September 13 had no fans in attendance as the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services denied the request for a capacity exception at the time.

Elsewhere, the New Orleans Saints saw 5,979 fans in attendance on Sunday for its game against the San Francisco 49ers.

The 74,295-capacity Mercedes-Benz Superdome saw its stands fill up with almost double the number of fans from the previous home game on October 25.

Saints coach Sean Payton said: “Our last home game, we noticed the difference from the very beginning (of the season), where it was completely sterile. As we progress through the season and continue to have more fans, we certainly appreciate it and feel the difference. There’s just such a passion with our fan base that that little bit matters.”

If COVID-19 trends remain stable in the region, the Saints also expect to welcome 6,000 fans for the November 22 game against Atlanta Falcons in the Superdome, and would later increase capacity to 15,000 fans for the December 20 game against Kansas City Chiefs and the Christmas Day game against the Minnesota Vikings.

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