TAMPA, FLORIDA (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - The United States government has classified Sunday's (Feb 7) Super Bowl as a high-risk event for terrorist threats and domestic extremists, even though in-person attendance will be limited because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Department of Homeland Security said there will be 500 agency personnel securing the game in Tampa, Florida, in addition to agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Secret Service, US Customs and Border Protection, local law enforcement and the National Football League's own security team.
The game between the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs and the hometown Tampa Bay Buccaneers has been classified as a "Level 1" event using the federal government's risk-assessment scale, meaning that it requires extensive inter-agency security support.
Previous Super Bowls and other large-scale sporting events, such as the Kentucky Derby and the Indianapolis 500 motor race, also received the top risk rating.
"Not only is the Super Bowl an attractive target for terrorists and domestic violent extremists, but it also presents opportunities for human trafficking, the sale of counterfeit goods, and other criminal activities," according to a Department of Homeland Security statement on Saturday.
The game will be played in front of a limited crowd, with roughly 25,000 attendees in the 65,890-capacity Raymond James Stadium. Among the fans will be 7,500 vaccinated health care workers invited as guests by the National Football League.
Previous games played at larger arenas have had more than 100,000 fans on hand, with many multiples of that attending nearby events connected to the big game.
The game will air at 6.30pm EST (7.30am Monday Singapore time) on CBS. The network is airing an interview with President Joe Biden around 4pm. A recorded video of Mr Biden and first lady Jill Biden thanking health care workers and encouraging people to get the coronavirus vaccine will also air ahead of the game.
Fans hoping to watch the Super Bowl will face a much different reality this year, with the novel coronavirus restricting the celebration around one of America's unofficial holidays.
Those who choose to gather at Super Bowl parties big and small in Tampa and across the country face dire warnings from public health officials to abide by basic health and safety protocols, amid the Covid-19 pandemic that has claimed more than 450,000 lives in the US.
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention guidance said those who attend large watch parties should avoid chanting or cheering and avoid going to the washroom during high-traffic times.
National Football League fans planning an all-day extravaganza of food and football at home are not immune to the strict precautions, either.
Dr Anthony Fauci, the leading US infectious disease specialist, had said that the typical house parties of the past should absolutely not happen.
"As difficult as that is, at least this time around, just lay low and cool it," Dr Fauci told Good Morning America last week.
The National Basketball Association issued a warning of its own to teams and coaches, according to media reports, telling them they are barred from attending Super Bowl gatherings outside of their homes.