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Sports fans could see much different experience once allowed to return to stadiums

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – In the last week, we’ve seen the first professional sporting events return in this country. First, it was the UFC fights in Jacksonville, followed by NASCAR’s first race in more than two months.

All of those events were held without fans. So, what happens once fans are allowed back into major sporting events?

Anyone who has gone to a Jaguars game knows that there can be some obstacles getting into the game. Now, imagine putting the experience at the airport on top of that. That’s in part what you might have to deal with once the games return with fans.

Steve Livingstone has worked in professional sports in Europe and in the United States for more than 20 years. He says that the game day experience is likely to be much different if fans are allowed back in games before a COVID-19 vaccine is widely available.

“There's definitely going to be a graduated approach to this,” Livingstone said. “And it may begin in a way that we're seeing in Germany over the weekend, where it started with the games back but without any fans at all. I wouldn't be surprised if a major sports event starts with maybe 25%. And that's going to be a difficulty as well. Which 25% is it? But I think it's going to have to be ramped up, and you have to stay within the parameters of safety.”

Getting into the game may demand the kind of technology that we’re already seeing in some airports, like this pod by CLeanTech that has been tested in Hong Kong.

CLeanTech sanitization pods have been installed at Hong Kong International Airport.
CLeanTech sanitization pods have been installed at Hong Kong International Airport. (CLeanTech)

“You basically enter the pod, shut the door, and it scans your temperature and then shoots you with a misting vapor of disinfectant,” Livingstone said. “You then get scanned with an ultraviolet light to kill any surface germs. And if everything’s good and the alarm bells don’t go off, you step on the other side, you’re ready to go.

“I think that the bigger issue will be for folks that failed the screening. That's going to be the issue because they'll have to be taken to a second screening area, just like they do at the airport. I think that's going to test the patience of a regular American sports fan.”

And there are a number of other things that could no longer be a part of your game day experience.

  • No more paper tickets. The Jaguars have already gone digital with their tickets. The pandemic is likely to force more teams and leagues to do so.
  • Forget bringing cash. To protect workers, all transactions will be done with a card or some other form of digital payment.
  • If you are used to moving around the stadium during the game, that mobility may be limited
  • And at least at first, expect the number of fans allowed in a game to be limited to provide for social distancing. And, what about masks?

“I think from a health perspective and not spreading the virus, it makes sense to wear a mask out of respect your fellow fan,” Livingstone said. “Obviously, you're going to get people that that don't want to wear a mask right, never mind at a sporting event. The question is, how do you police that?”

Of course, these are all projections and could change based on new data, but according to a recent survey conducted by research firm Question Pro, more than 62% of sports fans surveyed said they would not feel comfortable attending a sporting event until at least September, which is, ironically, when the football season is scheduled to begin.


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