When Eagles players step onto the grass Sunday evening for the team’s first public training camp practice at Lincoln Financial Field in two years, they’ll likely be greeted by a roar from what will be their largest crowd since 2019.
During the pandemic-filled season, the Eagles hosted a maximum of 7,500 fans in Weeks 6, 7 and 8 before a spike in COVID-19 cases forced the city to reinstate outdoor restrictions. But now the team is preparing to open its home facility to its full capacity of nearly 70,000.
“It’s been a long journey for all of us over the past 18 months,” team president Don Smolenski said. “Not having our fans in full force last season was hard on everyone. Eagles fans bring this building to life. We cannot wait to hear and feel that heartbeat and that pulse as we come back together again.”
Besides welcoming back fans, the team will roll out several changes across its home stadium.
Lincoln Financial Field will be entirely cashless, with 100% mobile ticketing in 2021. Concessions and vendors will only accept credit or debit cards, Apple Pay and Google Pay. If a fan doesn’t have access to a card or digital form of payment, there are cash-to-card conversion centers available at the Pepsi Lobby and the main concourse behind sections 105 and 121.
The team is introducing several club spaces, including the FOX Bet Lounge, DraftKings Field Club, and Jameson Bar.
Another prominent visual change is the LifeBrand Gate at the northeast entrance to the stadium. LifeBrand, a rising tech start-up based in West Chester, received naming rights to the gate as part of a sponsorship agreement in April. LifeBrand also secured Eagles wide receiver DeVonta Smith as an equity stakeholder and brand ambassador.
“When I first heard about the chance to partner up with LifeBrand, it immediately stood out to me as an exciting opportunity,” Smith, the No. 10 pick in this year’s NFL draft, is quoted as saying in the company’s news release. “As someone who has a growing social media presence and has been in the spotlight for the past few years, I’ve always recognized the importance of protecting my brand online.”
Smith is sidelined with a knee sprain that he suffered last Saturday. He’s listed as week to week on the injury report. The Eagles host the Pittsburgh Steelers for their first preseason game at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. Coach Nick Sirianni is hopeful to get Smith back on the practice field soon, so the reigning Heisman Trophy winner can get some reps before the season opener, scheduled for Sept. 12 at Atlanta.
Despite hosting a limited number of fans in 2020, the Eagles’ value grew by nearly 12%, according to a story published by Forbes earlier this week. The Eagles are the ninth most valuable franchise in the NFL, valued at $3.8 billion. In May, Forbes reported the Eagles rank No. 21 among the top 20 most valuable professional sports teams in the world.
“The emotional connection that exists between the Eagles and the fans is always there,” Smolenski said.
While some states, such as California and New York, are requiring customers and patrons to provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination upon entry to certain businesses, the Eagles will not require fans to provide such proof. Instead, they will rely on the honor system, according to the team’s director of fan experience, Norman Vossschulte.
Vossschulte also said the team continues to monitor the number of COVID-19 cases across the region amid the surge of the Delta variant. He said the Eagles will continue to gather information from the CDC and local health officials, and make decisions accordingly.
“We know [COVID-19 and its Delta strain] is a movable target,” Vossschulte said. “At any moment, we can get new directive. If there’s a new prerogative, we’ll call an audible and make the changes.”
Regarding additional health measures, the team installed numerous hand-sanitizer stations throughout the stadium and staff will routinely disinfect surfaces, including handrails, doorknobs and tables. If fans are feeling sick, the team encourages them to stay home.
“Our health and safety is our No. 1 priority,” Vossschulte said. “We can’t express how excited we are as an organization to have fans come back here to Lincoln Financial Field and bring that energy we’re known for in the NFL.”