Round 1 Playoff Picture: Attendance Analysis

2020 NFL Playoff Attendance Scenarios

Welcome to the first Analytics entry in the Stage Front blog! We have continued to innovate focusing on the growth of our analytics and partnerships divisions.  As part of our extensive push to help all of our ticketing friends coming out of COVID, we wanted to start sharing insights that can help the industry move forward.

For our first batch, we thought it would be interesting to dig into the potential ticket market for 2020 NFL playoff games, starting with the first round.

While playoff seeding has yet to be determined by week 17’s outcomes, we have a limited pool of four potential wildcard round venues in the AFC. However, the NFC is another story, with three teams vying for the 1st round bye and three teams from the NFC east competing for the division crown and a wildcard round home game (six total venue possibilities for three NFC wildcard round games).


AFC Outlook
The Bills (Bills Stadium) and Steelers (Heinz Field) are locked into wildcard round home games, while the outcomes of Titans-Texans and Jaguars-Colts will determine the winner of the AFC South and the venue of the third AFC wildcard round game. The numbers crunched by the analytics teams at FootballOutsiders and FiveThirtyEight both indicate Titans and Colts victories in week 17, which would mean a home game for Tennessee in the wildcard round. Obviously, anything can happen on any given Sunday, but we will use the analytics from these sources to drive these scenarios for the sake of this analysis.

Using the analytics to predict week 17 matchups, along with some interpretation of the data by the team at Stage Front (for example, while the Steelers rate higher than the Browns on FootballOutsiders, the Steelers have announced that they will be resting some key starters, so we expect a Brown’s victory), the projected AFC wildcard round matchups are as follows:

  • Colts (7 seed) at Bills (2): Bills Stadium
  • Browns (6) at Steelers (3): Heinz Field
  • Ravens (5) at Titans (4): Nissan Stadium

Bills Stadium has not been allowing fans to attend games this season. However, due to the long playoff home game drought in Buffalo, the team petitioned New York Governor to allow up to 6,700 fans. This petition was accepted and includes a plan for COVID testing of all fans along with contact tracing. However, resale will not be allowed.

Heinz Field has not allowed fans to attend games since the Steelers’ week ten tilt vs. the Bengals when 5,909 fans were in attendance. They have hosted around 500 friends and family of players at games since then, but we will exclude that for this analysis.

State orders restricting attendance at games will expire on January 4th, before the wildcard round games, and the Steelers expressed in a message to season ticket holders earlier this month that they are hopeful they will welcome up to 7,500 fans for each playoff game. So, we will assume a max of 7,500 fans and a minimum of zero for this game.

Nissan Stadium has allowed fans to attend seven home games this season, with an average of 12,075 fans in attendance. However, at their most recent game in week 16, 13,797 fans were in attendance. We will, therefore, assume the same number for their projected wildcard home game: 13,797.

In summary, for the AFC:

  • Colts (7 seed) at Bills (2): Bills Stadium – Up to 6,700 fans
  • Browns (6) at Steelers (3): Heinz Field – Up to 7,500 fans
  • Ravens (5) at Titans (4): Nissan Stadium: – Up to 13,797 fans

So, in total, for the AFC wildcard round games, we will likely see anywhere from 13,797 to 28,179 fans in attendance.


NFC Outlook
With the top seed and NFC East title still up for grabs, scenarios in the NFC are a bit more complicated than the AFC, so we will make some significant assumptions based on what the analytics tell us about the likely outcomes of week 17’s games. The projected NFC wildcard round matchups are as follows:

  • Rams (7) at Saints (2): Mercedes-Benz Superdome
  • Cardinals (6) at Seahawks (3): Lumen Field
  • Buccaneers (5) at Washington Football Team (4): FedEx Field

Unfortunately, attendance outlooks for these games are significantly lower than in the AFC. The Saints have hosted an average of 3,210 fans at seven games this season, including 3,000 at their most recent game in week 16 vs. the Vikings. The Seahawks have not, however, hosted any fans this season, while Washington has hosted fans just one time all year: November 8th vs. Tampa Bay (3,000 fans).

While no information has been released regarding playoff attendance for Seattle or Washington, it seems safe to assume that there may not be any fans in attendance at their home games. In this scenario, we are looking at a likely attendance total of around 3,000 fans for the NFC divisional round.

However, there is real potential for significantly higher attendance numbers in the NFC. With Alex Smith uncertain to play this week, Washington may be turning to untested Taylor Heinicke at quarterback. FiveThirtyEight has adjusted their odds for this matchup, giving Washington just a 50% chance of winning. If Washington were to lose this game, the NFC East title would go to Cowboys-Giants winner, with the Cowboys projected to win that game. Dallas has hosted more fans than any other team this season, with an average of 27,377 per game and 30,131 in week 16 vs. the Eagles.

If we swap Dallas in for Washington, the projected NFC wildcard round attendance will skyrocket from just 3,000 fans to over 33,000. Other potential home teams in the NFC wildcard round include the Packers and Giants, who have not hosted fans in 2020.

In summary, for the NFC:

  • Rams (7) at Saints (2): Mercedes-Benz Superdome – Up to 3,000 fans
  • Cardinals (6) at Seahawks (3): Lumen Field – Likely no fans
  • Buccaneers (5) at Washington Football Team (4): FedEx Field – Likely no fans 

OR  

  • Buccaneers (5) at Dallas Cowboys (4): AT&T Stadium – Potentially over 30,000 fans

So, in total, we will likely see 3,000 OR 33,000 fans in attendance for the NFC wildcard round games. However, if the Saints end up winning the top seed in the NFC, there is a chance that there would be no fans in attendance for any of the NFC wildcard matchups, as Green Bay would then be hosting a game, and they have not allowed fans all year.



Divisional and Conference Championship round outlook:
The Chiefs will host at least one game at Arrowhead Stadium, where they have welcomed an average of 13,141 fans at seven
home games this year, including 13,470 in week 16 vs. the Falcons.

The only potential top seed in the NFC that has hosted fans in 2020 is the Saints, who both FiveThirtyEight and
FootballOutsiders rate as the top team in the NFC.

The only way for a wildcard team to host a game in the playoffs is if they face another lower-seeded wildcard team. While two
wildcard teams have never met in the playoffs since the league’s expansion to 32 teams in 2002, the NFL is including three
wildcard teams for the first time, meaning that there is a better chance a wildcard team could host a playoff game.

So in the AFC, there is a chance that the Browns, Colts, Dolphins, or Ravens could host a playoff game. All but the Ravens
have hosted fans at least seven times this season, with recent totals ranging from around 10,000 to 13,300 fans.

In the NFC, the Bucs, Rams, Bears, and Cardinals could host a playoff game if facing another wildcard team. The Rams and
Bears have not hosted fans at any home games this season, while the Buccaneers have had an average of 14,229 fans at
games, including 16,031 in week 15 vs. the Vikings. On the other hand, the Cardinals had had fans at three games, most
recently on November 15th vs. the Bills, when they hosted 4,200 fans.

One other point to keep in mind: Just because a team has not hosted fans this season does not mean that they will not in
the playoffs. As we have seen from the Bills and Steelers already, there are hopes that some fans will be allowed in stadiums
for postseason games, even if they have not been recently.


Mike joined Stage Front as Director of Data Analytics and Business Intelligence in January of 2020. He spends his time with Stage Front straddling the line between data and strategy, generating optimizations, innovations and insights for Stage Front and our partners. Mike has worked in Strategy and Innovation with CVS Health, Management Consulting with KPMG and Data Analytics with the Kimmel Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins. He’s a huge Ravens fan, an avid skier, mediocre tennis player and reigning champion of the Stage Front fantasy football league. Mike has an MBA from NYU’s Stern School of Business and a BS from Vanderbilt University. Go Dores!

Michael Pomerantz: Director of Data Analytics and Business Intelligence

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