The Kentucky Derby will allow spectators in the stands, but capacity is capped at 14%

Churchill Downs released its health and safety plan for the Kentucky Derby on Tuesday and “the fastest two minutes in sports,” is going to look very different this year.

Included in the 62-page plan are details about attendance, which will be capped at 14% of Churchill Downs’ total capacity, along with changes to how fans wager and safely enter the stands.

“For those guests who plan to join us for this year’s Derby, we promise you that we will make it a wonderful experience, and most importantly, we will make it as safe and comfortable as we possibly can,” Churchill Downs Racetrack President Kevin Flanery said in a news release.

The most obvious change is going to be the attendance. In a normal year, 150,000 fans pack the grandstands of Churchill Downs to watch the most iconic race of the year. This year, attendance will be about 23,000, and the usually crowded infield will be closed. Churchill Downs said reserved seating will be limited to a maximum of 40% occupancy. There will be no walking or standing room tickets available this year. To reduce contact between personnel and guests, all tickets will be delivered digitally. 

Upon entry to Churchill Downs, guests will be subject to temperature checks and asked to fill out a medical questionnaire. They will also be provided with a mandatory face mask that must be worn at all times (except for eating), in addition to a personal stylus to use on betting terminals.

Programs will be included in the ticket price for all tickets, but this year guests will be able to access a digital version of the day’s program through the use of a QR code.

Other changes that fans can expect include will be changes to the way people wager. Last year, The Run for the Roses set an all-time record for handle with $165.5 million bet, up 10% from 2018. While Churchill Downs will still offer betting on site with properly spaced tellers and PPE, they are strongly encouraging guests to wager online through, the official advance deposit wagering platform of Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby.

For fans dreaming of mint juleps, the drink that has become synonymous with the Derby, you’re in luck. A spokesman for Churchill Downs told CNBC the popular drinks will still be available and it will be served in a disposable or souvenir cup with wrapped straws. Concession service will be limited to mostly pre-packaged foods. 

Churchill Downs is making sure attendees remember to socially distance and wash their hands regularly with hundreds of signs throughout the venue. They are also adding more than 1,000 hand sanitizing stations and 800 floor decals to help with social distancing throughout. 

NBC Sports said broadcast coverage plans are still being finalized. NBC’s coverage of the Belmont Stakes included socially distanced broadcasters in various locations, something they are likely to do for the Derby as well.

The Derby is usually run on the first Saturday of May and is the first leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown. Due to the pandemic, the race was pushed to September 5, with the Belmont Stakes run first on June 20.

Historically, the Derby has helped provide a major economic boost to Lexington, Kentucky as the number one tourism generator for the Louisville Metro Area.

“The Derby is the bread and butter for a lot of our businesses in the hospitality industry,” Stacey Yates, VP of marketing and communications for Louisville tourism, told CNBC.

The two weeks of Kentucky Derby festivities for 2020 was expected to bring in $400 million to $500 million in revenue, according to Yates. 

“Any economic activity is going to be a bonus,” said Yates, who estimated hundreds of millions of dollars in losses as hotels, restaurants and rentals are limited.

“The general feeling is with or without fans, we feel fortunate to have the tradition of the Derby continue,” she added.

Last year, the economic impact made on the Louisville area over Derby Weekend $356 million, according to Louisville’s Tourism Board.

Churchill Downs, the company behind the Derby will also feel the impact. “We assume 2019 ticketing EBITDA of $68m declines to $23m in 2020, or a year over year decline of 66%, JP Morgan’s gaming analyst Dan Politzer said in a July 31 note.

“We now forecast 2020 Derby EBITDA of ~$60m, down 46% year over year,” the note said. 

Meanwhile, on Monday, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear warned that recent daily Covid-19 numbers may be “artificially low” because of testing errors by the state’s vendor. 

“We are still in a very difficult, dangerous place with a virus that is spreading so significantly right now,” Beshear said. 

More than 35,000 people have tested positive in Kentucky, and 783 people have died, according to the state’s health statistics.

However, Churchill Downs officials said they are doing everything possible to reduce the risk and exposure of Covid-19. 

“Our extensive plan meets or exceeds all recommended state and local guidelines and we’re optimistic that it will allow this time-honored event, which belongs to our community and our country, to serve as a progressive unifying force that can help bring us together,” Flanery said.

Disclosure: NBC Sports is part of NBCUniversal, the parent company of CNBC.

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