With it increasingly looking like Spring Training 2021 will be the first time MLB welcomes fans back to the ballpark in almost a year, teams and spring-complex managers are laying in operating plans in the COVID-19 era. Here’s a look at what one team is doing.
The New York Yankees and the Tampa Sports Authority (TSA) have mapped out a COVID-19 mitigation plan for Steinbrenner Field, which is owned by Hillsborough County. The Yankees and the TSA came to an agreement on a budget of $1,693,159.20 for COVID-19 mitigation-related and recommended building modifications, using CARES Act funds to pay for the improvements. The budgeting is split in two phases, with the first phase focused on ballpark upgrades and the second centered on concessions upgrades.
The changes will be apparent as you enter the ballpark on a timed-entry basis to cut down on long queues, with fans presented with a permanent shade canopy and lighting for guest and employee screening and temperature checks ($100,000 for the canopy, $6,000 for thermometers to screen all event attendees at main entrances prior to security checkpoint), with a contactless entry turnstile and ticket pedestal ($120,000) slated for the second phase of improvements. Social distancing will be enforced by new Tensabarrier stanchions, toppers and bike racks at ballpark entrances and common gathering areas ($23,325 in each phase). The public-address system will be extended to all outdoor areas for announcements on issues like timed entry and social distancing ($50,000).
Fans will also see reconfigured dining areas to safely serve guests and maintain social distancing, which also includes electrical upgrades and replacement of current equipment ($150,000).
The current plan is not to remove seating, but rather to install signage on unavailable seats due to social distancing requirements ($50,000). And there will be more Plexiglas installed throughout the ballpark, ranging from the ticket office and customer-service reps to the broadcast booth and press box to food and beverage stations ($40,000).
Other improvements will be seen in the restrooms, including a conversion of the public restrooms to hands-free toilets ($30,000) and a retrofitting of all sinks to touch-free faucets as well as touch-free paper towel and soap dispensers ($102,125). Wall-mounted and pedestal hand-sanitizing stations will be installed throughout Steinbrenner Field ($14,950), while portable electrostatic sprayers for sanitizing ballpark seating and private event spaces ($11,610) is also on the agenda.
Not all the items are geared toward the fan experience, but most are, even if they won’t be observed directly by fans. For instance, $110,000 has been budgeted for a Pure Air HVAC photocatalysis system to be installed throughout the ballpark’s air-conditioning system, while $9,000 has budgeted for temperature kiosks at employee entrances and $39,000 for staff and guest sanitization equipment.
As noted, the second phase of alterations will focus on concessions, including handheld devices and mobile ordering fulfillment hardware for contactless food/beverage and merchandise payment ($74,400), as well as EMV chip readers to enable cashless points of sale ($68,200).
The agreement between the Yankees, TSA and Hillsborough County doesn’t cover the particulars of how a game will be run in terms of capacity and operations, but it does assume social distancing, timed entry, cashless concessions and electronic tickets will be the order of the day. But, in good news for spring-training fans, it does assume spring training will happen in 2021.
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