Hard Rock Stadium, home of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, welcomed almost 15,000 socially distanced fans last night (Monday) for the 2021 College Football Playoff National Championship.

The game saw Alabama beat Ohio State 52-24 to claim the programme’s sixth national championship at the 65,000-capacity stadium, which closed the recently created drive-thru entrance for the first stage of COVID-19 vaccinations ahead of the game.

Ticket holders, who were given staggered entry times, were required to socially distance and wear masks, with the stadium implementing other safety protocols to ensure the safety of the crowds amid the pandemic and rising cases across Florida.

These include a ban on tailgating in the car park, timed stadium entry, automated glove dispensers and in-depth training protocols for employees, fully cashless payments throughout the stadium, app-based mobile ordering, plexiglass barriers in premium spaces, and socially distanced seating clusters in the bowl.

In addition, in the hours before kick-off, dozens of stadium employees walked through the stands sanitising seats and handrails.

Hard Rock Stadium has been safely hosting professional and collegiate football games over the past few months, as well as an outdoor theatre experience, after becoming the first stadium worldwide to receive GBAC STAR accreditation.

Through its partnership with Centerplate, the leading hospitality partner to North America’s premier sports entertainment venues, the experience featured an online order-ahead food and beverage option via the stadium app, with distinct pickup-only locations in the stadium.

There was also a limited concessions menu featuring only the most popular items and more pre-packaged offerings, to reduce wait time and crowding on the concourses, so people could return to their seats faster.

Hard Rock Stadium reopened with a 13,000-capacity limit for the Dolphins’ home opener against the Buffalo Bills on September 20.

In October, Tom Garfinkel, president of the Miami Dolphins, noted that the team had been looking at social distancing options back in May and had arrived at a “13,000 capacity based on 6ft social distancing” in the 65,000-capacity venue.

Before that, back in March, the Dolphins organisation “got creative” about alternative event ideas based on smaller, COVID-safe crowds. These included the drive-in movie theatre set-up in stadium and an outdoor theatre space alongside the stadium, where it has also held graduations.

The Dolphins also launched Gameday Theater at Hard Rock Stadium and a Virtual Membership Pass. The Gameday Theater uses the existing outdoor theatre setup that has been operating since June to broadcast Dolphins home and away games on the complex’s fountain plaza video board, providing a self-contained, socially distanced entertainment environment for 386 people.

Image: Hard Rock Stadium