Bull riding may be the first professional sport with fans in attendance
Professional Bull Riders are planning to have a live crowd in early July at an event in South Dakota. But it will not be complete, the organizers plan to maintain the capacity at 35%.
SIOUX FALLS, SD — One of the first professional sports sports to allow spectators to attend as states gradually lift restrictions imposed due to the coronavirus is known for its wild and dangerous action: bull riding.
Professional Bull Riders has announced a new competition that will culminate in South Dakota July 10-12 with live crowds. As people look forward to getting back to their daily activities, it’s all part of an effort by professional sports organizations around the world to give bored fans at least a taste of what once was.
Bullfighting event organizers said they would provide face coverings for fans, space seats 4 to 6 feet apart and control the flow of people entering and leaving the arena to account for social distancing.
The German soccer Bundesliga returned this weekend with live football, but without fans in the stands. Games were played with sanitized balls, celebrated with punches rather than hugs, and cheered on by masked substitute players rather than thousands of bellowing fans.
American professional sports organizations – eager to hear the roar of fans accompanying a photo-finish or a 20-foot putt – are working on how they can easily return to live events without exposing spectators to the virus.
The PGA Tour plans to bring golf tournaments back in June, but organizers have said they won’t allow crowds for at least a month. NASCAR fans, shut out of the racetrack, gathered outside Darlington Raceway in South Carolina this weekend just to hear the roar of the engines.
As one of the first events scheduled to allow spectators, the bull competition will be a test – and a step towards a return to normalcy.
Fan sound will be muted. The bull competition will take place in the 12,000-seat Sanford Denny Premier Center in Sioux Falls, but tickets will only be offered for 35% of seats.
This will not meet President Donald Trump’s criteria for normality. He said on Sunday his idea of a return to normal would be to have thousands of maskless fans “virtually standing on top of each other” at golf tournaments.
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But sporting event organizers are watching governors and local officials to comply with their slow lifting of restrictions on daily life.
Professional Bull Riders said they worked with South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem and local officials to organize the event. Noem has avoided closing businesses or issuing sweeping stay-at-home orders during the pandemic, and she welcomed the announcement, saying on Twitter that it shows the state is “working to get back to normal.”
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Last month, the governor pressured a pair of dirt tracks to cancel plans to allow hundreds of spectators to watch the races.
Ian Fury, a spokesman for the governor, said hosting the bullfighting event was largely a matter of timing. The governor expects the spread of infections to be down by then, he said.
Bull riders are “really going the extra mile” in hosting the event to mitigate the possibility of infections, Fury said.
The Professional Bull Riders televised event will pit teams of riders against each other on Fridays and Saturdays for nearly a month in Las Vegas, but without spectators. For the final weekend, they will travel to South Dakota for an event that organizers hope will draw several thousand people.