Well, Well, WELL (Buildings)…Yankee Stadium Takes Fancentric Steps for Emerging from COVID-19

Deep in a pandemic that on some days looks like it may never end, teams and venues have begun taking steps to emerge from the threat of COVID-19 to personnel and fans.

As you would expect, consumers surveyed around returning to events with crowds–concerts, movies or games–all point to a lot of hesitancy.

How will the venue be cleaned? How can we be sure bathrooms, food service, common areas and cooling/heating systems are not only safe, but as safe as possible and kept that way?

We knew pre-pandemic that consumers are easily triggered about stadium food safety and cleanliness. Remember all the uproar over the ESPN Outside the Lines Dec 2018 report, “What’s lurking in your stadium food?“?

Now add on top of fans’ existing healthy skepticism all the uncertainty and fears about COVID-19 from transmission to long-term effects. As we headed into August, MarketCast saw the highest percentage yet–62 percent–of consumers who definitely would not go to a movie theater if it reopened tomorrow with a movie they wanted to see. Their mid-May sports-focused survey found 21 percent of fans very or somewhat unlikely to return, and while 47 percent of fans said they are very likely/certain they will return to venues, 52 percent of those will wait at least a month to a few months before doing so.

See also Sports Embrace the Business of Clean

To address all this hesitancy, fancentric teams and venues must not only institute elevated health and safety protocols covering every corner of the building, but they will also need to clearly promote those enhanced measures to make fans comfortable about returning (when allowed).

Third-party verification is an excellent way to establish consumer trust—especially when including certification through that third party’s trusted “Seal of Approval.” (Think Consumer Reports, Underwriter’s Labs or the ADA‘s “Seal of Acceptance” for oral care.)

This June, in response to the pandemic, the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) did just that by developing the “WELL Health-Safety Rating for Facility Operations and Management” to grant standardized certification. The IWBI has been granting WELL Building certification since 2014 following six years of research and development.

“We heard from so many new and prospective customers that they needed our help to apply the latest science and evidence to validate their COVID-19 response and provide a seal on the outside that would help people going inside,” explains Rachel Gutter, IWBI’s president. “It eliminates the need for capital improvements and focuses on those most urgent needs that we have for making people feel comfortable coming back into these spaces and transforming our buildings as front-line caregivers in the fight against COVID-19.”

The IBWI’s WELL Health-Safety Rating incorporates the latest guidance developed by the World Health Organization (WHO), U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), global disease control and prevention centers and emergency management agencies, standards bodies including ASTM International and ASHRAE, as well as leading academic and research institutions.

Count the New York Yankees among those proactively looking to ensure they were creating the safest environment possible for players, personnel and the future return of fans at Yankee Stadium. Team officials learned about the work IBWI had underway and reached out to see if the ballpark could earn the WELL Health-Safety Rating.

The WELL Health-Safety Rating would assess Yankee Stadium around these five areas:

  • Air & water quality management — includes assessment of ventilation and fresh air supply (mechanical and natural) and reviewing inventory of all filters and ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) equipment.
  • Cleaning & sanitization procedures — includes ensuring proper handwashing and surface contact by staff, improving cleaning practices and their frequency and selecting cleaning products that disinfect without harmful ingredients.
  • Emergency preparedness programs — detailed plans for dealing with unforeseen events and providing an actionable re-entry plan after an emergency.
  • Health service resources — promote employee well-being through screening services, mental health services, seasonal vaccination programs and a smoke-free environment.
  • Stakeholder engagement & communications — includes appropriate signage throughout stadium and promoting health literacy to employees, partners and patrons, including food service safety verification.

This past week, the IBWI named Yankee Stadium the first sports and entertainment venue to earn the WELL Health-Safety Rating.

“Achieving the WELL Health-Safety Rating for us was vitally important,” explains Doug Behar, Yankees SVP, Stadium Operations, who lead the team’s efforts. “The Steinbrenner family commitment to all the stakeholders—our fans, our players, our employees, the community, the media—has always been to provide a world-class experience, and this includes health and wellness.”

Asked for examples of recent additions to the venerable stadium, Behar mentions a low-dose hydrogen peroxide mix (similar to what many hospitals use) that the team has incorporated into stadium ventilation to kill airborne bacteria and pathogens. Areas supplied include the players’ clubhouse, weight room, training room and umpires’ room.

Behar believes those advances have Yankee Stadium well prepared for the reintroduction of fans. Now they await guidance from Major League Baseball and local government agencies, including New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.

“This is all about being prepared,” Behar said. “We’re following the lead of our Commissioner and the Governor on what comes next. We wanted to be as prepared as possible, to have confidence that we’re doing the right things to be ready.

The IWBI’s program is certainly not the only certification focused on fan experience.

For example, there is the Global Biorisk Advisory Council’s (GBAC) “STAR Facility” accreditation, which has been awarded to San Francisco’s Chase Center, Los Angeles’s Staples Center and Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium. A division of ISSA, the global cleaning industry association, GBAC’s accreditation means venues employ the most stringent cleaning, disinfection and infectious disease prevention protocols. Venues need to demonstrate compliance on 20 core program elements to earn GBAC STAR accreditation.

The difference? Gutter says that the WELL Health-Safety Rating is a “broader mandate” around the five focus areas (cleaning procedures, air/water quality, preparedness, resources and communication), whereas the STAR facility accreditation focuses specifically on cleaning protocols and sanitation.

Another attractive point Gutter makes: “The WELL Health-Safety Rating addresses a broader spectrum of concerns beyond just the COVID-19 pandemic. It applies strategies that will carry the Yankees much further come the next flu season, but also deals in many other unexpected emergency scenarios that, today as we’re watching the news, we know can play out and layer on top of the complexities of a pandemic. We’re thinking about all of the different acute health risks that we may face within the built environment and mapping to evidence-based strategies that our customers can apply to really take the necessary precautions and really be prepared for the unexpected.”

Also unexpected: we stand to gain many fancentric health and safety practices improvements lasting long after we emerge from the pandemic.

“For us, it seems too logical to not keep these (measures) in place forever,” Behar notes. “We’re talking about cleaning and disinfection…it goes beyond just COVID-19, we have flu season upon us now, we have other pathogens that are out there. We realize it’s simple enough for us to do. It’s safe enough for us to do. It is something we see keeping in place for the future.”

One more thing is very clear in a muddied look to the future. Yankee Stadium will likely be the first of many venues to seek—and hopefully gain—the WELL Health-Safety Rating to confirm they are as safe as possible, including for the return of fans.

Chris brings deep sports business experience to his role as publisher of TMR. He first put his sales, experiential marketing, PR, sales and valuation skills to work in sporting goods retail in 1986. He has since worked for brands and agencies across all major league sports, plus golf, college athletics, marathons and motorsports. Chris is also the proud founder of Painless Networking.