- Ryan Sickman, Sports & Convention Centers Leader, Principal, Gensler
- Robert Housman, Partner, BookHill Partners & Former Assistant Director for Strategic Planning for the Clinton Administration
- Russ Simons, Chief Listening Officer & Managing Partner, Venue Solutions Group
- Drew Martin, Executive Senior Associate Athletics Director for External Affairs, University of Texas at Austin
On Wednesday, with approximately 850 registrants on its virtual forum, LEAD1 Association (“LEAD1”) hosted a webinar for its member institutions discussing some of the key areas to safely reopen college sports venues when games return this fall. The panel, moderated by Gensler Sports’, Ryan Sickman (who has designed, managed and overseen a number of prominent sports facilities), featured Robert Housman (the former Assistant Director for Strategic Planning for the Clinton Administration), Russ Simons (Managing Partner at Venue Solutions Group) and Drew Martin (Director for External Affairs for the University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin).
Housman, a partner at Regal Decision Systems, Inc., a company that uses simulation modeling to optimize human traffic flow within facilities, opened the panel by showcasing various simulations demonstrating certain mitigation strategies for creating optimal fan traffic flow in stadiums. The simulations were an eye opening glimpse into the new realities for college sports fans in a COVID-19 world. Housman, for example, presented several demonstrations related to possible needed changes with respect to security at entrance points (i.e., social distancing measures) and single directional flowing inside the stadium. Housman also illustrated common situations in stadiums that have historically been “normal” occurrences that may now require changes such as mitigating clusters of people in tunnel spaces, distancing fans in ticketing lines and limiting seating to premium options. The critical point is that every venue will need to be analyzed on a case by case basis and one size will not fit all in terms of strategies for fan traffic management.
Simons then outlined key considerations related to venue sanitation, food service and staff safety and training. First, regarding venue sanitation, Simons recommended that athletics departments examine the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Emerging Viral Pathogen Guidance, which describes proper disinfectants (e.g., cleaning products) to use for certain types of environments. Simons also recommended ATP testing for bacteria (given that cleaning for bacteria could help cover other types of contamination). In addition, Simons generally highlighted the importance of deep cleaning (i.e., going into smaller areas to clean) and understanding the difference between cleaning and sanitizing (cleaning merely removes debris whereas sanitizing reduces bacteria on surfaces). Second, with respect to food service, Simons described several possible COVID-19 mitigation strategies such as imposing social distancing restrictions on concourses and implementing “cashless” lines as well as grab-and-go food stations (and possibly requiring hand sanitizing at these stations). Simons noted that venue strategies may differ state by state (depending on various state regulations, for example, “cashless” may be illegal in some states). Third, Simons underscored that all athletics staff should be trained specifically for implementing COVID-19 safety procedures.
Finally, Martin emphasized the importance of athletic department internal contingency planning to prepare for all aspects of collegiate life returning. For example, to plan ahead, Martin’s, UT Austin, created various internal committees comprised of senior athletics staff in several areas such as facilities and events and fan and donor engagement (noting that the established committees have followed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other state and local guidelines). Some of the policies implemented from these groups include procedures for people coming to campus (such as temperature checkpoints, mask requirements and time restrictions for being on campus) as well as certain hygiene procedures for all staff and student-athletes (handwashing, wiping desks and towel usage restrictions). Moreover, to safely engage with fans, UT Austin plans to deploy certain technology, such as mobile ticketing, mobile publications (e.g., digital engagement appearing on phones) and mobile polling during games. All in all, Martin stated that UT Austin will implement an “all-hands-on-deck” approach, which will require all staff to play a critical role in event operations.
For more information, feel free to reach out to our moderator, Ryan Sickman (Gensler Sports) at firstname.lastname@example.org or 816.204.1988.