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Newcastle's World Surf League event is likely to be screened off and limited to 2700 spectators unless COVID-19 restrictions change.
Fans could face a ballot for tickets, or a first-in-best-dressed system.
Merewether will host the Newcastle Cup, the first Australian round of the 2021 World Tour, from April 1 to 11 after organisers pulled out of Bells Beach in Victoria.
The event is expected to attract 52 of the world's best surfers, including Kelly Slater, John John Florence, Stephanie Gilmore, Tyler Wright, Carissa Moore and Gabriel Medina.
Newcastle's first top-tier surfing event since 1990 will generate plenty of interest, but the large crowds that sometimes line Bathers Way at Surfest are incompatible with social-distancing rules.
WSL general manager Andrew Stark told the Newcastle Herald on Friday that the spectator area would be on the sand and some sections of the boardwalk.
The state's social-distancing rules state that fenced and ticketed outdoor events can have 3000 spectators.
Mr Stark said about 300 of that number would be support staff, leaving 2700 spots for the general public.
It is likely the tour will erect screens on Bathers Way to block views of the water and discourage crowds from congregating near the beach.
"The event will look like exactly what the NSW health department and NSW Police tell us it needs to look like," Mr Stark said.
"The guidelines we talk of today could change. They could go up or down.
"As of today what we're planning for is a crowd of 3000 people.
"Hopefully, things get better between now and then and we can have more, but I would suggest it's now late February and our event's the first of April, so you would have to think it's probably going to be what we're talking about today in terms of the 3000 number."
The WSL would release information about crowd numbers, ticketing and the venue set-up after confirmation from police, health and council authorities.
Discussions about ticketing had just begun.
The tour does not typically charge admission or distribute tickets to its events, but Mr Stark said the WSL was weighing up whether it would have to charge a fee in Newcastle, as it does at the Bells Beach surfing reserve.
Surfing can take place any time during the 11-day event window, depending on wave conditions.
The shifting schedule creates headaches for ticketing, but the organisers could allocate tickets by competition round instead of date.
Overseas competitors are set to arrive in Australia on a chartered flight from Los Angeles on March 8 before athletes and support staff enter a mandatory 14-day hotel quarantine period.
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