Since the Coronavirus started grabbing a hold on our collective attention in the early part of this year, sports facilities everywhere have pushed the pause button in an effort to prevent its spread. There is pent-up demand in the market and an enormous desire for facilities to re-open their doors and return to serving their communities. If you are reading this, you are already aware of the power of sports to unite people and build a sense of normalcy, even in the most abnormal of times.
Sports are critical for building connection in our communities and so is re-opening the places where they are played. Below are four best practices to consider for re-opening your sports facility. While regulations within your home state will dictate when you can begin this process, it’s important to have a plan in place so that your efforts are seamless, efficient, and safe for employees and guests.
These best practices will cover how facilities should plan for re-opening from a business and operational standpoint, how to address customer concerns, how to approach marketing during the pandemic, and how to use programming to best serve your community.
Planning for Re-opening Your Sports Facility
It’s important to note that with any re-opening plan, guest safety is the number one priority. While these strategies cover several facets of bringing people back to your facility, they must all adhere to rules and standards set forth by your home state and the CDC.
When reopening of your sports venue, there are two equally important facets of planning that will become your focus before and after you welcome guests: operational planning and business planning. Let’s start with what takes place on the court, field, or ice.
The first two critical steps in this process is to establish a team/committee that can research safety and cleaning best practices and implement both your state’s regulations and the CDC guidelines for re-opening. Best practices for dealing with the Coronavirus continually evolve so it’s critical to have someone leading efforts to gather the latest information. This is also a great time to connect with other operators to share information about safety strategies. The health of athletes and their families is too important to withhold information.
With access to a substantial set up guidelines and best practices, it’s time to create an operational plan and standard operating procedures for re-opening your facility. This plan should include the following components:
- Onsite guidelines: Specific rules for engagement for attendees, athletes, and staff, along with guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting common areas and playing surfaces. A diagram of how you will place teams, attendees, staff, and officials should be considered as well. It’s also important to understand your capacity and how it should be adjusted to meet state and CDC guidelines.
- Employee procedures: Guidelines for how team members perform their duties safely, including social distancing procedures and what to do in the event that they or other individuals are diagnosed with Coronavirus.
- Operational Checklist: A broad list of all items and processes needed to maintain an environment that’s safe for staff and attendees and compliant with OSHA and CDC recommendations.
- Messaging for Parents: Naturally, we are all concerned about the safety of every environment we enter. Being proactive in the conversations you have with this audience will build trust and help your events and programming stand apart.
- Budget: Aside from your standard budget, other line items will include costs associated with cleaning chemicals and supplies, additional labor and new signage.
Before you consider re-opening, take time assess the primary facets of your business, including your staff structure, operating and marketing budgets, and your revenue forecasts. Take inventory of what your facility can offer consumers given the current market, the costs to meet safety protocols, customer interests, your competitors, and your state’s regulations. Develop revised budgets and forecasts for the remainder of 2020 and the first part of 2021 and establish a vision and a plan that will give staff and stakeholders an outcome to move towards.
While it may seem counterintuitive, dark days are the perfect time to focus on business development. Collaborate with event rights holders to develop safe, scaled down versions of events or reschedule them for later in the season. When developing your own events, consider local sports participation rates, how far people would travel to participate in the event, and potential partners you can bring to the table to enhance the event offering for guests and participants.
Speaking of partners, community support is critical to re-open and recovery. Work with both local businesses and your Convention and Visitors Bureau (if you’re a sport tourism destination) to develop strategies for attracting events to your facility. This may include reduced hotel rates for teams, a pool of volunteers, or assistance with permitting, among many other items. Everyone benefits from events and programming at your facility and this is a great time to strengthen those bonds and create a collective solution.
Adjusting to Customer Behavior
As our understanding of the Coronavirus has evolved so too has our feelings about the level of precaution that we should take when in public. It’s critical to not only put measures in place that maintain a safe environment for all attendees, you must show it. Sports facilities must communicate the overarching message of safety and cleanliness to their audience and provide information on how CDC standards are achieved. Communication about the venue’s efforts must exist both online and in the facility.
Add a FAQ section to your site that covers all topics pertaining to operating during the pandemic, including cleaning procedures, social distancing enforcement, procedures for handling individuals showing Coronavirus symptoms and procedures for dealing with attendees that refuse to wear a mask.
Signage and consistent monitoring are critical. The social distancing standard of six feet apart must be stated throughout the venue. So too is messaging around the importance of wearing masks. The important thing to remember when it comes to communications about safety standards is that they can’t be over communicated. Continuous announcements in common areas and during breaks in game action may seem annoying but it keeps safety near the top of mind. Consider Interrupting and stopping competition to encourage social distancing. As game action intensifies, fans have a tendency to congregate. SFM’s Guide to COVID-19 Response and Re-Opening even suggests establishing a warning system in order to enforce social distancing policy. In this case, it’s critical to keep it simple by aligning it with popular sports rules such as the yellow/red card system from soccer.
Marketing and Programming
When establishing your re-opening plan, proactive messaging and serving your local community will be crucial. It’s important that you foster a positive public perception of your facility, staff, and programs. With the goal to build consumer confidence, utilize your website, social media and email platforms to show what measures are being conducted to build a safe environment at your venue. Leverage relationships that you have built with the local media to discuss not only safety protocols, but ways in which you are serving the community.
In terms of new programming, parents throughout the country are faced with the challenge of navigating eLearning environments while continuing to work. There’s an opportunity to support these families by providing places where students can take eLearning classes in a safe and clean environment outside the home. One such program is ramping up in New Jersey, where Apex Sports and Events is offering their Remote Learning Day Camp. The 200,000 sq. ft. facility offers numerous workspaces, premium-speed internet, and a variety of athletic activities, including climbing walls, basketball courts, and an arts and craft zone.
Additionally, physical education and in school sports are likely to be casualties of the eLearning environment. Sports facilities and recreation centers can fill this gap with programs like the school day camps at Cedar Point Sports Center. CPSC’s camp not only supports eLearning but includes sports specific drills similar to what would be seen in a traditional PE class.
Re-opening your sports venue is an outcome we all want. Use these best practices from our experienced teams at SFM and the SFM Network to help navigate the process. For additional guidance, download our free guide to COVID-19 Response and Re-Opening or call us at 727-474-3845.