Bull riding to host live event with fans in South Dakota, likely first in country to do so

As sports leagues gradually return across the globe amid the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly all have done so without fans in attendance.

Now, a league in the United States is preparing to bring fans back in the coming months — which will mark the first true test for sports in the country.

Professional Bull Riders announced on Sunday that it will host the championship rounds of the PBR Monster Energy Team Challenge during a three-day event with fans in July in South Dakota, almost certainly making it the first sports league in the country to do so.

[ Coronavirus: How the sports world is responding to the pandemic ]

PBR will host the event from July 10-12 at the Sanford Denny Premier Center in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The venue can hold up to 12,000 fans, however organizers will only sell about 4,200 tickets. They will also provide face coverings for all fans, space seats 4 to 6 feet apart and control the flow of people entering and exiting the arena, among other safety measures.

“South Dakota is working to get back to normal, and that includes the return of sports at the proper time,” South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem said in a statement. “South Dakotans have been smart and innovative in responding to this crisis, and the plan for the Denny Sanford Premier Center shows that we can reopen arenas in safe and innovative ways. We commend ASM Global and PBR for their careful planning and will continue to work with them to ensure the safety of their fans.”

The first rounds of the team competition will take place in Las Vegas starting on June 5, and will be closed to the public.

There were more than 1.5 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the United States as of Monday afternoon, according to The New York Times, and more than 90,000 deaths attributed to it. South Dakota had more than 4,000 confirmed cases, though the majority of them were in the Sioux Falls area.

Should the event in South Dakota go well, it could provide a blueprint for other leagues to follow when hosting events with fans — whenever that may be — amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Several other leagues have resumed play, or announced plans to do so, without fans in attendance in recent weeks. Both the WWE and UFC have started holding events in Florida with only essential personnel present in the arenas, and the PGA Tour is planning to resume its season next month without fans present for at least the first four events. Germany’s Bundesliga resumed play last weekend without fans, too.

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