BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Bills and Sabres fans will need proof of vaccination to attend games in the coming season, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said Tuesday.
Poloncarz said he has talked to the Bills about this plan, which he hopes will be in place by this summer when the NFL’s preseason begins.
“No Vaccine = No Entry,” according to a slide Poloncarz showed during his news conference. A negative COVID-19 test will not be enough.
The Bills are Sabres are believed to be among the first teams in the country — if not the very first — to have their local government announce a full vaccination policy will be in effect to attend games.
“I want to see that stadium full, I know the Bills want to see that stadium full. We want to return fans back to the stadium,” Poloncarz said. “That’s why the county supports returning all fans to the stadium and (hockey) arena for this fall … We know there’s a way to do it. We know there’s a way to ensure it. That’s that all fans and staff are fully vaccinated.
“Our plan is that unless you are vaccinated, you will not have entry to the stadium,” Poloncarz continued. “It is easy, it is safe. We can then guarantee 70,000-plus people at the stadium.”
Erie County owns the Bills’ Highmark Stadium and Sabres’ KeyBank Center, but not Buffalo’s baseball stadium that could host the Toronto Blue Jays this summer.
“It is our intention to move forward with this plan,” Poloncarz said. “The county owns the facilities. … Our goal is to ensure a 100% safe environment.”
“As we did last year, we will continue to cooperate and comply with all New York State and local government regulations regarding our sporting events,” the Buffalo Bills said in a statement.
Poloncarz said he hopes to utilize New York’s Excelsior Pass app to facilitate entry. The county will work on a solution for fans who do not have smartphones.
“The New York State Department of Health continues to work closely with the Buffalo Bills on the plan to return fans to the stands this fall, in accordance with the State’s guidance on professional sports competitions with spectators and all applicable laws and regulations,” the New York State Department of Health said in a statement. “We encourage all New Yorkers to receive the COVID-19 vaccination, which is the best tool for combatting the spread of this virus in our communities. As always, the Department will continue to review the State’s guidance, in consultation with our partners in industry and local government, and make adjustments as necessary.”
Poloncarz acknowledged fans have a personal choice in whether or not to get vaccinated. He said attending sporting events is a personal choice, too.
“There’s no God-given right to attend a football game,” Poloncarz said.
Poloncarz said the policy applies to fans and stadium workers, but players and other team staff aren’t under the county’s jurisdiction. The NFL, however, informed teams on Tuesday that any employee who refuses a COVID-19 vaccination without “bona fide medical or religious ground” will be barred access within the team facilities and won’t work directly with players.
This county rule does not apply to the two remaining Sabres games that are welcoming fans this season. Proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test will suffice for entry to those games.
How this rule will apply to children is not yet clear. Currently, only New Yorkers age 16 and up are eligible to be vaccinated, and vaccine use for children has not yet been approved. However, it is believed that authorization will come in the near future. Poloncarz indicated those under 16 will have the opportunity to be vaccinated this summer.
“We fully expect that as the authorization is given for children to be vaccinated, that they will have plenty of time to be vaccinated this summer,” he said.
Poloncarz added that plans will be in place before the season starts about how to welcome vaccinated fans from outside of New York state.
This is a developing story. Check back for more information.
* * *
Nick Veronica is a Buffalo native who joined the News 4 team as a Digital Executive Producer in 2021. He previously worked at NBC Sports and The Buffalo News. You can follow Nick on Facebook and Twitter and find more of his work here.