Hygiene oversight could be the next hot job
Teams and venues are adopting new facility hygiene strategies as they develop return-to-play scenarios. The planning includes appointing an existing executive or team of employees to oversee health and sanitization efforts, or in some cases possibly looking outside for new hires experienced with that specialty.
Chad Biagini, president of the search firm Nolan Partners, said some organizations and teams are talking about adding a vice president of health and safety, or bringing someone senior into risk management.
“Designating someone who’s spending a considerable amount of their time thinking through risk and ways to prevent and mitigate risk, I think makes a lot of sense,” Biagini said. “If it’s already in-house, great. If it’s not in-house, our recommendation would be you go import that capability.”
Biagini said teams and leagues have spent the past decade thinking more about growth than risk and governance. In light of the current pandemic, he said, “These are the times when you look on and say, ‘Well, we should probably fortify risk and governance to make sure if other problems happen, we’re best prepared for that and not just thinking about growth and opportunity.’”
The NBA is instructing its franchises to assign a training facility hygiene officer role as teams look to return to practice facilities, a league source said. The focus of the new assignments initially is on the practice facilities, not arenas.
The new roles are expected to be filled by existing NBA team staff to make sure that teams adhere to coronavirus prevention guidelines being developed by the league. The NBA will allow players to return to their practice facilities in limited fashion beginning on May 8 in states that are easing quarantine restrictions, but no decision has been made about continuing the regular season.
“We have an army of people on this,” said an NBA team executive. “We are talking to people all over the world in our industry and other industries to make sure we have the safest and cleanest environment in the world.”
No specific guidelines have been completed.
“We have retained infectious disease professionals, have our head of facilities spearheading our reset, and are most likely going to redefine many roles in the new normal,” said another team executive. “We are designating a facility hygiene officer (FHO) for our practice facility immediately.”
The NHL is studying similar measures as the NBA but has not yet set a date for opening its training facilities. “We have not finalized our Phase 2 club protocol at this point because our club facilities have not been opened for access by players,” said NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly. “All aspects of the protocol we will be employing are being discussed and remain open.”
MLB uses a task force at the league level to guide teams in assembling their own staff to handle issues related to the virus. Each team has an individual responsible for facilities, and the expectation is that that person is largely in charge of instituting any adjustments that may be required as the sport moves toward possible resumption of games.
Three MLB teams reached about the possibility of adding a staff member in that role spoke only on condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters. One team has created a committee of a employees who will fill that role jointly. A spokesperson for a second team said its senior vice president responsible for facilities has been its internal point person. And the third team’s spokesman said it has current staff on board that handle similar duties.
In MLS, Chris Klein, president of the LA Galaxy, said that there’s not a policy similar to what the NBA has enacted but the team is developing its own plan.
“We are obviously taking direction from the league and their medical people in terms of what it is we need to do,” Klein said. “We’re thankful that we have a fantastic medical team here in Los Angeles, and we’re following the advice of that team as we build our return-to-play protocols and look at all of the things that are very dynamic and changing.
“At the same time, we’re part of a bigger company, and we own and operate facilities around the world. Concurrently, we also have a task force that’s working on the AEG side. Katie Pandolfo, general manager of Dignity Health Sports Park, is very involved and engaged with that group. We’re looking at the data and trying to be proactive and to plan. We don’t have that set plan yet, but we’re working daily on trying to build it.”
NFL teams have been getting updates from league Chief Medical Officer Dr. Allen Sills, who regularly speaks with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the White House task force. Along with the NFLPA, Sills has also helped coordinate regular guidance to teams from the Duke Infection Control Outreach Network. The Duke group recently offered advice on how to disinfect facilities and the proper procedures for quarantining possible cases. However, none of the guidance has broached who should lead that work at the club level.
On the venue front, the Tim Leiweke-led Oak View Group earlier during the pandemic went public with plans for a new division to make certain that venues are sanitized to meet government health recommendations.
ASM Global, AEG’s venue management business, which has a portfolio of more than 325 stadiums, arenas, convention and exhibition centers, plans to launch a new hygiene program at all of its properties around the world.
ASM’s Venue Shield will see employees using personal protective equipment, enhanced food safety measures, air quality control, increased surface cleaning, physical/social distancing, temperature checks, thermal cameras, hand sanitizers, reduced touch points, contactless transactions and daily monitoring systems.
Venue Shield will be led by Harvey Lister, who heads the company’s Australia and Asia-Pacific division, John Sharkey in Europe and Doug Thornton in North America, with support from the managers of ASM’s facilities.
Matthew Kastel, who manages Oriole Park at Camden Yards and is president of the Stadium Managers Association’s board of directors, said venue sanitation in a post-COVID world was a popular topic at a recent virtual town hall the organization had for members. Venues want to see what the new sanitation standards will be and hope to get clear guidelines from the CDC, Kastel said.
“It’s too early to say if facilities will hire in-house or go outside to put someone in charge of those duties,” Kastel said. “We’re monitoring guidelines from the CDC. The news on this issue keeps changing every day and venues will take different approaches.”
“Some facilities are putting in specialized cleaning staff in place with different uniforms, to show guests they take this seriously,” Kastel added.
In Miami, Hard Rock Stadium will complete a program to become the first public facility to earn the Global Biorisk Advisory Council’s STAR accreditation that includes elements in establishing and maintaining a cleaning, disinfection and infectious disease prevention program.
Staff writers Mark J. Burns, Karn Dhingra, Ben Fischer and Eric Prisbell contributed to this report.