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Pro bull riders welcome back fans to arena for this weekend’s event

Dustin Boquet of Bourg, La., competes in the bull riding event at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas on Dec. 12, 2018. (AP file photo)

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — As bull riders attempted to hang on to their rides for eight seconds on Friday night in South Dakota, they were going to be energized by a lively sound they haven’t heard in months — the cheers of a crowd.

Thousands of people were expected to yell and applaud from the stands as they watch one of the first indoor professional sporting events since the pandemic began. Professional Bull Riders is allowing 4,000 fans into the arena to watch the culmination of a month-long competition that until Friday has played out before silent stands. It’s a cautious step towards giving sports fans who have been cooped up for months a chance to leave their homes and watch a 1,800 pound bull attempt to throw a man from its back as the rider tries to hold on.

Other professional sports leagues such as the NBA and UFC are watching the bull riding event to observe how fans may be allowed back into stadiums and arenas, competition organizers said. NASCAR will let thousands of spectators into a race in Texas on July 19, but English soccer’s Liverpool has played out its march to a first league title in 30 years in front of empty stadiums.

Professional Bull Riders are trying to keep both athletes and fans safe from the spread of coronavirus infections by limiting the crowds to less than half of normal capacity, seating groups apart from each other in a method they call “pod seating,” and testing riders and their support staff. The tightly packed lines for the concession stand or bathroom will be gone as well, with signs encouraging people to space apart.

As the number of COVID-19 cases topped 3 million in the United States this week, South Dakota has seen a relatively low number of coronavirus cases in addition to a governor eager to push reopening economic activity.

Professional Bull Rider Tanner Byrne, center, is applauded by PBR CEO Sean Gleason, foreground right, as he rings the New York Stock Exchange opening bell on Jan. 4, 2019. (AP file photo)

Gov. Kristi Noem has worked with event organizers and even welcomed the event as a way to “get back to normal.”

The county where the bull riding event was being held had 230 active cases of COVID-19, according to the South Dakota Department of Health.

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