2021 Super Bowl: How COVID-19 Will Impact the Game

ET's breaking down everything fans can expect during the NFL championship game in Tampa, Florida, on Sunday, Feb. 7.

We're less than one week away from Super Bowl LV, and this year's event will be unlike anything we've seen in years past.

Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the NFL has had to make a plethora of changes in order to successfully create an experience that keeps everyone entertained, but still safe from COVID-19. One of the most obvious differences people tuning into the game on Sunday, Feb. 7 will see is less people in the stands to cheer on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs. While Tampa's Raymond James Stadium can seat up to 75,000 people for special events, the NFL is limiting capacity to 22,000 (the lowest attendance in Super Bowl history) and requiring everyone to wear masks and sit six feet apart.

"This is not the Super Bowl that Tampa dreamed of, but they've risen to the occasion," Peter O'Reilly, Executive Vice President of the NFL, told ET via Zoom. "We will honor the Tampa community there."

From who scored an invite to what other precautions are being taken for the coronavirus, ET's breaking down everything fans can expect to see during the unprecedented NFL championship game, Pepsi Super Bowl Halftime Show, pre and post-game festivities and more.


O'Reilly shared with ET that the Super Bowl teams will stick with the same health and safety protocols that have "been effective and evolving all year" within the league.

"Every week [throughout the season] we learned more from NFL's Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Allen Sills," he explained. "He has done an incredible job. The teams are obviously continuing to be in daily testing and virtual meetings predominantly."

"They'll also be coming into town significantly later than they normally would," he added. "You would normally see Opening Night and Media Day and that whole thing, [but] they will be coming in much closer to the game ... a shorter stay in Tampa. Every precaution is being taken."


As a way to show thanks to those who have been working on the frontlines of COVID-19 the past year, the NFL is inviting healthcare workers as their special guests.

"There are some incredible stories and incredible human beings who are going to be with us down in Tampa at the Super Bowl," O'Reilly said. "We are going to invite 7,500 vaccinated healthcare workers to the Super Bowl as our guests, the vast majority coming out of the Tampa area. To hopefully bring a little bit of joy and more than anything thank them, celebrate them, honor them. We'll also use the platform of the Super Bowl, which we're fortunate to have, to educate the broader society on the efficacy of the vaccine. That's a big part of this as well."

In addition to those local to the Central Florida area, O'Reilly told ET that each of the 32 NFL clubs will get to invite four healthcare heroes from their own market.

"The whole nation will be represented," he said of the decision. "A fair amount of logistics will be involved to make sure they're verified, and when they get here, we'll give them an incredible experience. We'll also do an event before the game for them, because they're the one group that can be together and kind of show us what the future hopefully holds in terms of being together."


While the coin toss is always a special moment at the Super Bowl, O'Reilly teased that the NFL has something unique planned this year to "honor three incredible heroes."

"One is a healthcare worker from the Tampa area, one is an educator and one of them is a wounded warrior," he shared. "It's just been incredible in the way [they] have served the community this year. I won't reveal a ton more than that, but there's some special moments around the coin toss."


"The Super Bowl has, what we hope is, a unifying and positive effect of bringing everyone together, and we think this game has the ability this year to do that more than ever," O'Reilly explained. "People won't be in their big Super Bowl parties -- they may be at home with their family, in a more nuclear environment -- and I guess what we hope to do in addition to a great football game is to provide some special moments that will bring that unifying positive feel."

"H.E.R.'s performance of 'America the Beautiful' will be really special, and the combination of Eric Church and Jazmine Sullivan singing the national anthem brings two very different genres together," he continued. "Those are just a couple of examples of why I would encourage people to tune in early and to the pregame. There will be some really special moments in there."


Jesse Collins, who was tapped by JAY-Z and Roc Nation to co-produce this year's halftime show with The Weeknd, told ET that while Super Bowl Sunday will look a little different this year, there will still be "an emotional dazzle" to the performance they've prepared.

"It's gotta be about entertainment from a truthful perspective," he explained. "Get away from the massive sets, all the hoopla, the flying this and that. And get to the core of what makes an artist special."

"There's no other show like it," he continued. "All the other award shows are all unique and special in their own way, but the Super Bowl is just different. And to do it with the pressure of being in a COVID-19 year makes it even more exciting because it's not going to be a show that you're going to look back on and go, "Oh, they had to do it that way because of [the coronavirus].' It's still full entertainment from beginning to end."


"It's all happening in that stadium, in that moment," Collins teased. "We're not bouncing off to another stadium and then cutting in like some people have had to do [before]. We are fortunate enough in this situation that we are able to do a live live show."


When asked if the "Save Your Tears" artist has anything special in the works, Collins replied, "Surprises? Man, the whole thing is a surprise!"

"I think there's a lot of stuff happening in the show that people aren't going to expect," he shared. "It's just going to be fun. It's so perfect."

"We started creating this thing back in September, and the message of it really worked out," he added. "The world worked out for the message that The Weeknd wants to communicate in this performance."

As for any surprise guests? "Maybe there will be cameos, but we can't say what he's doing," Collins teased. "It's definitely a very special show. But you'll just have to watch and see what happens."

Super Bowl LV airs live on CBS and Paramount+ on Sunday, Feb. 7. Kickoff is at 6:30 p.m. ET. Additionally, you can also stream the game for free on CBSSports.com and on the CBS Sports app on your mobile device. In the meantime, stay tuned right here to ETonline.com for more exclusive Super Bowl coverage coming your way before game day!


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