SBJ Unpacks: The New Reality For Sports Facilities
Tonight in SBJ Unpacks: Pro teams are working hard to make sure their stadiums and training facilities are meeting safety standards, and strict protocols will likely be the new norm even in a post-coronavirus world.
- The ATP Tour is confident its season can finish safely in Europe after U.S. Open.
- NFL Films' Ken Rodgers opens up on a unique season of "Hard Knocks."
- MLB Network is trying out some new broadcast elements this weekend.
- How did Indianapolis 500 officials finally decide to not allow fans?
YANKEES, COWBOYS EXECS TALK STADIUM SAFETY PROTOCOLS
- Facilities managers for the Cowboys and Yankees discussed safety at their respective venues during a presentation on Friday sponsored by The International WELL Building Institute, reports SBJ's Karn Dhingra. Yankees Senior VP & Director of Stadium Operations Doug Behar noted that the only employees who are allowed in Yankee Stadium during the 2020 MLB season are workers who are essential to conducting games. The Yankees have two separate contact tracing teams for players and staff. With increased COVID-19 protocols requiring single-use sanitation wipes and personnel having to carry small plastic bottles of hand sanitizer, a “tug of war” between the team’s sustainability efforts and COVID-19 protocols is starting to emerge, Behar added.
- Unlike Yankee Stadium, and other NFL stadiums, the Cowboys will have fans at AT&T Stadium, which is going cashless, during the 2020 season, noted Legends President of Global Planning Bill Rhoda, whose company also oversees operations at AT&T Stadium. Legends and the Cowboys will not have employees at their offices until sometime in January 2021, Rhoda said. The Cowboys are testing staff that are in contact with players on a regular basis and will have an infectious disease response team to isolate fans at games who might be showing symptoms of COVID-19.
- Rhoda and Behar both agreed that stepped-up cleaning and safety protocols at sports venues are likely to stay after pandemic subsides or even if there is a vaccine. The Yankees and Cowboys are investing in upgrading air purification and HVAC systems at their venues. Rhoda also noted that it’s much more difficult to control the spread of COVID outside of a bubble environment.
ATP LOOKS FOR STRONG SEASON FINISH IN EUROPE
- The ATP Tour released a modified 2020 schedule this morning, with 13 tournaments, including the U.S. Open and French Open, culminating in the year-end Nitto ATP Finals in London. SBJ's Bret McCormick reports that the finals, the tour’s biggest money-making event, is tentatively planned to be held without fans in attendance, and the ATP sent out information to ticket holders about incoming automatic refunds from ticketing partner AXS. The tour’s press release also mentioned that it’s exploring possible additions to the tournament calendar, including the issuance of a limited number of single-year tournament licenses for the 2020 season.
- After the Western & Southern Open and U.S. Open in N.Y., the ATP will finish the season, for now at least, with 11 tournaments in Europe. The Austria Open Kitzbuhel, Hamburg Open, St. Petersburg Open, Kremlin Cup, Sofia Open and Roland Garros all survived postponements earlier in the year to make it onto this provisional schedule. One tournament that didn’t survive the pandemic reshuffle: the Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan, the tour’s showcase for young talent, which was canceled.
- “Tennis is starting to find its way back,” said ATP Chairman Andrea Gaudenzi, “and while we must first and foremost look after the health and safety of everyone involved, we are hopeful we will be able to retain these playing opportunities and produce a strong finish to the season. I would like to commend the tournaments for their continued commitment, flexibility and resourcefulness in finding solutions to operate under these challenging circumstances.”
NFL FILMS WORKING THROUGH UNIQUE "HARD KNOCKS" PRODUCTION
- When the promise of a television show is that it takes viewers inside an NFL training camp, into offices and meeting rooms and training rooms and hotel suites, the restrictions of a socially-distanced, COVID protocol world could prove insurmountable, writes SBJ's Bill King. How hard is it to make the HBO series "Hard Knocks," and make it in a way that its award-winning NFL Films producers and directors and crew could be proud of, when meetings are via Zoom, and under tents, and many areas of camp are entirely off limits? The show’s long-time coordinating producer, NFL Films VP Ken Rodgers, discussed that and more on the latest episode of the SBJ Unpacks podcast.
- "I wondered constantly, and would say right now, a few weeks into production, I still wonder on a minute-to-minute basis, how we’re doing it and how we can continue to do it safely and effectively," Rodgers said. "It’s an ongoing process. It really is difficult and detailed and you have to stay vigilant."
- Rodgers: "In March and April, I was of the mind that this will be a good backstory about how maybe the teams didn’t have as much offseason work. But of course everything will be OK come August. And as it got closer and closer, we started saying: This may affect the season, but also our show. Not just content, but the process of the content, and how we’re going to capture it. The logistics of it overtook the summer."
- For much more about how the show comes together each week, life in pods and bubbles, and a reflection on late NFL Films pioneer Steve Sabol and his lasting influence, check out the latest SBJ Unpacks podcast.
MLB NETWORK GETTING CREATIVE WITH NEW GAME BROADCASTS
- In a truncated 60-game season defined by newness, MLB Network is experimenting with two innovative concepts with live game broadcasts this week, reports SBJ's Eric Prisbell. Friday night, for the first time in the network's history, Greg Amsinger, Dan Plesac and Harold Reynolds will call a game using elements from the network's signature program, "MLB Tonight," when the Cubs host the Brewers.
- At different points, the telecast will shift to a two-box format and whip around to live look-ins of key moments from other games across the league. The analysts will do rapid demonstrations on important plays from the game in Studio 42, MLB Network's replica baseball field studio, and they will host in-game interviews with personnel from the Cubs and Brewers throughout the game. MLB Net's Jon Morosi also will contribute to the telecast on-site from Wrigley Field.
- The telecast could have a little of the feel of NFL RedZone. Similar telecasts, if the network chooses to, could be compelling during this season's stretch run because there will be so many teams still in contention vying for the 16 postseason berths. "To me, this makes the most sense in the world," Amsinger said about the concept. "We're going to mix in what we do from a studio perspective considering everyone is doing games from studios. So why not use the best studio in sports television? And we're going to integrate it into how we call this game, Brewers-Cubs."
- Read more about MLB Net's plans here.
HOW INDIANAPOLIS 500 OFFICIALS SETTLED ON NO FANS
- Indianapolis Motor Speedway will take an almighty financial blow from having no fans at next weekend's Indianapolis 500, but IndyCar CEO Mark Miles says that series leaders made the decision on their own, without an ultimatum from local officials, reports SBJ's Adam Stern. The 104th running of the race will be without fans for the first time in history; it was already set to be the first time since 1946 that the race had not been run in May. Miles wouldn't disclose specifics, but the financial hit is sure to be well into the low to mid eight figures.
- IndyCar had been trying to soldier on with a plan to host fans, first announcing the race would be held with no more than 50% capacity, then 25%, then none. Miles says that he's confident that IMS could have pulled off the event safely, but that key coronavirus metrics in the Marion County area around the venue had doubled or tripled from late June to late July and early August. "It is a significant negative impact on our financials, but one we're capable and absolutely prepared to absorb," said Miles.
- While Miles insists that series owner Roger Penske and other top IMS/IndyCar execs made the decision without pressure from key local leaders to do so, he conceded that IMS understood the numbers had reached rates that officials had already made clear they would be concerned by. "I won't elaborate on that, but I will say that neither one of them said, 'You can't do it with fans,'" Miles said of Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb and Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett.
- The decision also came the week after the local IU Health healthcare system made public its opposition to the race being held with fans this year. However, Miles said that it would be "false" and "incorrect" to say that this was the final key factor that forced the move. Action for the 500 started this week on Wednesday with practice and continues this weekend with qualifying for next Sunday's race.
OUTSIDE CONTRIBUTORS: CAN MLB KEEP MOMENTUM GOING?
- Tonight's op-ed contribution is from advertising agency Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners Associate Director of Analytics Matt Sindayen, Associate Strategy Director Jake Bayham and Sccount Supervisor Tony Bossard, who write under the header, "Can Baseball Connect With A New Audience And Drive Home Its Opening Day Success?"
- "MLB’s return should be cause for optimism among owners, players, fans and sponsors. However, given the sport’s recent history of declining attendance six of the last seven years, sharp ratings drops among younger viewers and lackluster national awareness of its biggest stars when compared to their counterparts in the NBA and NFL, it will take more than pent-up demand to win over a new generation of fans."
- To read the full contribution, click here.
- The latest COVID-19 testing results from MLB and the MLBPA showed that just four out of 12,301 tests in the last week "were new positives." All four positives came from the Cardinals; two players and two staff members, good for a positive rate of 0.03%. The results mean that the "last time anyone other" than a Cardinals player or staff member tested positive across MLB was July 30.
- Stadium insider Shams Charania cited sources as saying that the NBA and NBPA are in "serious talks on in-market bubble program in September for the eight franchises that were not part" of the Orlando restart. Framework would include: daily testing, one week of individual workouts, two weeks of group practices, one hour of 5-on-5 per day.
- The Texans announced Friday that NRG Stadium will not host fans for the team's home opener on Sept. 20 against the Ravens. The decision on whether fans can attend the remaining Texans home games "depends on the status of the COVID-19 pandemic in the the greater Houston area, which is currently amid its highest threat level." The next game scheduled in Houston is on Oct. 4 against the Vikings.
NEWS YOU NEED FROM SPORTS BUSINESS DAILY
- During this crisis impacting the sports business, we want everyone to be up-to-date on the latest news and information. Select stories from Sports Business Daily are free, outside the paywall, for the foreseeable future. Below are today's headlines:
SBJ UNPACKS -- THE ROAD AHEAD
- Check out the most recent editions of our "SBJ Unpacks" podcasts around COVID-19:
- NFL Films VP Ken Rodgers talks about how his group is managing HBO’s "Hard Knocks" during the pandemic.
- Hotopp Associates CEO and Head of Creative Gary Wichansky discusses the design firm’s work helping the NHL construct production sets in Toronto and Edmonton.
- Octagon Football Senior Dir of Client Management Casey Muir offers his perspective on the tenuous state of college football and the upcoming NFL season.
- NFL Films VP Ken Rodgers talks about how his group is managing HBO’s "Hard Knocks" during the pandemic.
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