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How Sports Teams are Preparing to Welcome Back Fans

As discussed in our previous blog, Sports teams across the globe are heavily reliant on fan attendance and its related revenue. As local, national, and global restrictions begin to loosen combined with increased distribution of vaccines, we will gradually see fans return to stadiums in a partial capacity. While teams will welcome their fans back after a long layoff, they will be faced with several new challenges including;

  • Creating, communicating, and enforcing safety and social distancing measures 
  • Convincing fans to sign COVID-19 waivers to avoid potential liability
  • Forecasting and changing operations to match the demand of various in-person attendance limits 
  • Differences in timing of fan return for indoor vs outdoor stadiums

Adjustments that have been made include guidelines regarding; social distancing, cashless transactions, mask requirements, and other measures to keep fans, staff, and team personnel safe.

In preparation for the 2021 season, The Seattle Mariners communicated new guidelines regarding COVID restrictions.

Professional sports leagues are willing to share information about best practices with their counterparts in other sports. “NFL teams shared best practices throughout the season, and Kansas City Chiefs president Mark Donovan said the organization had been in communication with MLB’s Royals.” These leagues engage in mutually beneficial dialogue and exchange data and ideas about anything from concession sales to facilitating a safe entry/exit of stadiums, and other operational challenges shared between leagues during the pandemic. 

Attendance policies are subject to the guidelines of each team’s respective county and even within a league, some fans of teams may return sooner than others. We have even seen the case of partial attendance halted mid-tournament and then resumed for the latter stages as was the case during the 2021 Australian Open. A 5-day lockdown was ordered preventing fan attendance while the tournament was granted permission to continue under a bubble. The lockdown was not extended after the 5 days, and fans were able to return at the original 50% capacity that was allowed at the inception of the tournament. This was just one example of potential issues that tournament officials must react to during this pandemic. The tournament was operated at a loss this year due to loss of attendance revenue as well as increased costs associated with creating a bubble. “Tiley said that a strict hotel quarantine programme, regularly testing, player bubbles and adopting new technology has been crucial to putting on the tournament. The added expense meant that the event will make a loss this year, a cost he said was worth it to hold the tournament and maintain its global standing.” The deficit was further compounded by limited ticket sales throughout the 2 weeks.

CEO of Tennis Australia, Craig Tiley describes the challenges of hosting a major sporting event during COVID.

Sports leagues will have to continually adapt their business operations and safety procedures as fans begin their return to stadiums both in the US and abroad. Both proactive planning and reactive measures will be necessary to have sports return to a temporary new normal.

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