Dowdy-Ficklen, much like every other college football stadium in the age of COVID-19, has looked different this season. While the Pirates have played just one home game thus far, it was without the thousands of fans that make an ECU game day so special.

Instead, roughly 250 family members of Pirate players were allowed in on Sept. 26, joined by 100 of their UCF counterparts. That created an environment where ECU’s fan engagement department, in step with the American Athletic Conference and ESPN network, was forced to pipe in artificial crowd noise.

All that will change this Saturday when Navy comes to town. Under North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper’s Phase 3 reopening plan that took effect on Oct. 2, large outdoor venues with a capacity of more than 10,000 are now allowed to operate at 7% capacity. For Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, that means around 3,500 fans will be permitted to watch the game in-person.

“I think it’s just going to be good to have more of the Pirate faithful in the stands,” ECU head football coach Mike Houston said. “The last couple of games (were) in Georgia and in Florida and those are two pretty hotbed states right now with the pandemic. We were able to experience, though, in those states, crowds at the games. It’s good that we’re going to be able to experience that here at home in Greenville. It’s still only going to be 3,500 fans or so, but at least it’s 3,500 fans. It’s going to be people that are passionate about the Pirates, so I look forward to having them in the stands Saturday.”

Tickets were distributed based on priority level in the Pirate Club, while the student body was encouraged to participate in a ticket lottery. All tickets this year are of the mobile variety and will correspond to one of three zones dedicated to seating the limited quantity of fans.

Zone one is on the south side of Dowdy-Ficklen and includes sections 4B, 5, 6, 7 and 8A. Zone two is on the north side of the stadium and encompasses sections 16, 17 and 18. Zone three accommodates sections 3, 4A, 8B and 9.

Each ticket will have the designated section listed and all fans are required to wear a face mask and socially distance. To help with that, the athletic department has marked certain seats for use to comply with distancing guidelines and fans are asked not to move from their assigned location.

TowneBank Tower will be open to suite and loge box ticket holders. Masks are required unless eating or drinking and guests are to stay in their respective suites during the game. In the Trade Club and Loge Level, food will be served by staff members, while food in the Williams-Clark Club will be pre-packaged at concession stands.

Parking lots open two hours before kick-off, but tailgating is still not allowed on university-owned property. Alcohol sales within the stadium begin 90 minutes prior to the start of the game and end at the conclusion of the third quarter. As always, you must be at least 21 years old to buy beer and wine.

A complete listing of requirements, changes and protocols for Saturday’s game can be found here.

While it will be unlike anything many of us have experienced before, this is what it takes to play college football in the face of a global pandemic. As the season progresses, the hope remains that capacity restrictions will continue to be eased, but that all depends on how well the curve is flattened between now and ECU’s two remaining home games.

“Had a good week of practice this week,” Houston said. “Guys are excited for Saturday. It’s good to be back at home. Really excited that we’re going to have 3,500 fans or so here in the stadium Saturday. It’s not 50,000, but it’s better than 300. It’ll be good to get some Pirate faithful back in Dowdy-Ficklen so they can cheer on our group. Obviously we have a very challenging opponent coming in here, but it’s one that we’re very, very excited about the matchup with. Should be a good one.”

Kick-off is scheduled for noon on Saturday.

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