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Super Bowl LV: Pandemic brings changes to big game

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Super Bowl LV: Pandemic brings changes to big game
A COVID-19 warning sign is seen outside of Raymond James Stadium prior to Super Bowl LV in Tampa, Fla. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

Feb. 7 (UPI) -- Super Bowl LV on Sunday will be a different kind of NFL experience on and off the field because the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the big game in big ways.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who are taking on defending champion Kansas City Chiefs, will be the first team in NFL history to host a Super Bowl in their hometown.

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The Buccaneers won't be surrounded by fans, however, as Raymond James Stadium will only allow 25,000 fans, making it the smallest Super Bowl attendance in history. The stadium can hold 65,890 fans at full capacity.

Healthcare workers to attend

Among the crowd, the NFL will bring 7,500 healthcare workers vaccinated against the virus to thank them for their service during the pandemic. A majority will come from the Tampa, Fla., area.

The healthcare workers will be treated to a special live performance by Miley Cyrus during a pre-show event title TikTok Tailgate. Fans can tune into the show Sunday at 2:30 p.m. EST on TikTok.

Every fan who attends will receive personal protective equipment, and will have to adhere to a set of safety protocols. That includes wearing a complimentary KN95 mask at all times, maintaining a social distance of 6 feet, washing hands regularly, presenting tickets on mobile devices and making purchases without cash.

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Fans will not be seated in rows immediately behind each sideline. The stadium's empty seats will be filled with 30,000 cardboard cutouts.

The Weeknd will perform

The Weeknd will perform live during Super Bowl LV's halftime show, promising fans at home he will deliver a cinematic experience.

"We've been really focusing on dialing in on the fans at home and making performances a cinematic experience, and we want to do that with the Super Bowl," The Weeknd said about the performance while recently speaking with Billboard.

The Weeknd said he will use $7 million of his own money to ensure that the halftime show is what he has envisioned.

Commercial mainstays drop out

The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting many advertisers, who normally run big, celebrity-packed TV ads during the game -- a tradition that has made commercials a part of the fun of watching the Super Bowl.

Budweiser hasn't missed a Super Bowl in 37 years, but instead will use the $5.5 million it costs to run an ad toward supporting COVID-19 vaccinations nationwide, Anheuser-Busch announced.

"As America's beer, Budweiser understands the value we place on in-person connection -- an essential element of American culture that was not possible in 2020," the company said in a statement.

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"By helping to raise awareness for COVID-19 vaccines, Budweiser is helping draw closer to a time for buds to safely reunite in person safely."

Coca-Cola, Hyundai and Pepsi aren't buying Super Bowl ads this year, either. Pepsi, which is sponsoring the halftime show, said that it will focus on that instead of buying additional airtime.

"Over the past decade, the Pepsi Super Bowl Halftime Show has become one of the most anticipated, viewed and talked about moments in music and entertainment," vice president of marketing Todd Kaplan said in a statement.

"So, this year, instead of buying a traditional 30-second. in-game Super Bowl ad, we decided to double down on the 12 minutes Pepsi already has in the middle of the game."

Celebrating at home

Fans around the country have to decide whether to throw a Super Bowl party because of COVID-19 fears. And they may not be able to visit a bar or restaurant to imbibe and watch the game because of COVID-19 restrictions.

As a result, more fans than ever will view the Super Bowl, traditionally one of the most social and watched events of the year, just with family and perhaps a handful of friends.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that the safest way to celebrate events is at home accompanied by those with whom you live. The agency suggested having virtual Super Bowl watch parties or holding outdoor events with viewers sitting 6 feet apart.

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Parties and gatherings that do happen will be different this year for football fans.

Mitch Wilkison, digital marketing specialist for Funky Buddha Brewery in Oakland Park, Fla., said they it will host a similar watch party as last year -- with specialty draft beers and food specials, but there will be a difference in seating.

"To ensure a safe environment, tables will be spaced at least 6 feet apart, and there will be no bar seating," he said.

George Giannaris of Mr. G's Sports Bar in Harrisburg, Pa., discussed how his business can only operate with 25% capacity and how he will handle take out orders for those staying at home.

"We're expecting a lot of take-out business. That seems to be the norm now lately," he said.

"For this particular Super Bowl Sunday, we're going to terminate the take-out orders at 6 p.m., probably 30 minutes before the kickoff so that we can enjoy the game and cater to customers who actually got in the door with reservations.

In Kansas City, Mo., whose team is favored to beat the Buccaneers, Mayor Quinton Lucas last month extended a state of emergency to May, hampering Super Bowl celebrations should the defending champion win.

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Bars and restaurants must require social distancing, limit occupants to no more than 50 percent of building occupancy and close at midnight. Patrons must wear a mask, except when actively eating or drinking. Indoor and outdoor parties are limited to 10 people.

Kansas City also announced that if the Chiefs win, it will not hold a parade or public celebration.

"We are so disappointed that we won't be able to execute a parade or citywide celebration," Kathy Nelson, president and CEO of the Kansas City Sports Commission, said in a statement.

"Should the opportunity for celebration present itself, we are considering some options for the future when it is once again safe to gather," Nelson said. "But we want to encourage everyone to focus on cheering the Chiefs to victory safely and to follow the health and safety guidelines that are currently in place."

In Tampa, home of Super Bowl LV, bars and restaurants are allowed to operate at 50% capacity indoors. Mayor Jane Castor issued an executive order recently that masks must be worn in certain outdoor areas, including the city's popular Riverwalk, which runs along the downtown waterfront.

There is no word yet on a possible parade in Tampa.

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Castor and Quinton released a joint statement and made a public service announcement video together urging football fans to wear a mask.

"While we may disagree on who's going to win that Lombardi Trophy, we do agree on the importance of COVID-19 safety," Castor said.

"Both Mayor Lucas and I are fully committed to ensuring this Super Bowl can be a fun, safe and historic experience for our cities and football fans everywhere.

"We have an opportunity to showcase Tampa on the world stage as a city that takes this pandemic seriously, but we need everyone to do their part to keep themselves, other fans and our entire community safe. Wear a mask and GO BUCS!"

Super Bowl halftime shows through the years

Britney Spears sings at Super Bowl XXXV in Tampa, Fla., on January 28, 2001. The Baltimore Ravens defeated the New York Giants 34-7. Photo by John SooHoo/UPI | License Photo

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