This weekend we witnessed first-hand people will come to sporting events and follow the rules
James Earl Jones in “Field of Dreams” was right.
People will come to sporting events in these unusual times. Even more important, they will follow our rules and guidelines and be thankful to do so.
This past weekend, baseball was back in Macon, GA with Macon Bacon games in front of crowds of 1300 on Thursday and Saturday, about 35% of our normal capacity. We followed in the footsteps of our colleagues in Savannah as well as Bismarck, ND and various cities in the Texas Collegiate League.
And, despite the fear and despair you read about in the media every day, it worked. It worked in Macon, Savannah, Texas and in Bismarck. We weren’t perfect and will continue to get better as we play the rest of our season but don’t let anyone scare you. You can put on a sporting event with fans in a safe and successful manner.
And, I will say this. The fans will return. The fans will pay attention and follow your rules and guidelines. And most importantly, the fans will be thankful you’ve put the time, energy and effort in to allowing them to enjoy getting out of their houses and doing things with family and friends in a safe and comfortable manner.
Here’s a summary of what we learned in Macon and from my conversations with teams in the other states that are playing.
- Fans follow instructions. I heard it early from John Bollinger in Bismarck who started with three teams in his stadium on June 15 and it was echoed by Uri Geva in Texas. The fans will follow your instructions. They stayed in their seats and didn’t move around and get too close to each other. They social distanced at the concession lines. They didn’t crowd each other on the way in or way out. We saw roughly 30% of our fans wearing masks (we don’t have a mask mandate in Macon). Savannah does have a mask mandate and fans still came out and enjoyed themselves.
- Take the fun to them. Ironically, Uri Geva told me the fans in Texas were so attentive to staying in their seats and social distancing that they weren’t going to the beer stands. He made a quick adjustment mid-game and pulled workers out of the stands and started vending beer and snacks in the stands in a safe manner. The fans loved it and per caps soared. A common theme from our games and other team’s games was that fans were itching to spend some money on food and drinks and merchandise. We saw a 30% increase in beer sales in Macon and a solid bump in overall concessions per cap, even with more than 90% of our fans in the building there on our All-You-Can-Eat program.
Likewise, a 35% capacity ‘sellout’ doesn’t make for great crowd buzz. Be prepared to take the entertainment up 10 notches to create the buzz that normally comes with a full-house. Dancing ushers, sing-alongs, peanut vendors throwing peanuts around 10 rows and more get people talking and laughing.
- Merchandise kills it. In Macon, we more than tripled our normal merchandise per cap for the first two games. And this was with allowing just four people on our store at one time. Savannah saw huge merchandise numbers, as did Bismarck. Quite frankly, we didn’t have any radically new items in the store as we are trying to manage cash flow and not have a lot of inventory sitting around. The fans just wanted to get out and spend some money on things. Something they may have been afraid to do over the last few months.
- Your teenagers won’t follow instructions. I don’t have any kids but for those of you who do, you know what I’m saying. We did have to regularly remind our ‘invincible’ game day staff young people to keep their masks on during our first game. They did well when interacting with customers but when there was a break, they would pull their masks down and talk to each other within a foot or two of each other, just like normal. It’s mainly for safety but also for optics for our fans and the media for them to know we are taking every step to be safe. We finally got their attention with a Game 2 pre-game discussion about what would happen to the games if half the game day staff went down with infection and the impact that could have on their wonderful part-time summer jobs. They got the message and were much better for game two.
Likewise with our players, their enthusiasm for wearing a mask in 95 degree Georgia heat wasn’t very high. Our manager had to regularly remind them as well. To solve the problem, we are looking into the wrap around, breathable masks for all staff and players instead of the ear-loop masks. They are worth the investment to make your game day staff happy and protect against the risk of infection.
Undoubtedbly, we will face challenges over the rest of the season. As virus infections continue to grow, the odds of one of our players or employees being infected is entirely possible.
We have Plans B through Z ready, including a disaster plan of what happens if our entire staff goes down. We are preparing checklists for every person’s game day responsibilities and are compiling a list of season ticket holders and local supporters who we can call in a pinch to help us cook food, sell beer, direct parking and fill in the blanks to help us put a game on if the worst-case scenario hits. Think like FEMA and disaster preparedness so you are ready no matter what.
As I’ve said throughout this pandemic. People want to come to games. The number of “Thank you for doing this,” comments I heard from our fans in our first two games was heart-warming. We can make sports what brings us all together and do it in front of fans in a safe, healthy and enjoyable manner. But, if you’re a team exec or team owner, don’t just wait and hope for normalcy to return. Learn to operate in the new normal, getting started early on selling tickets and you can do this.
If you have questions on what we did and how we did it, feel free to give me a call at 702-493-2661 or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.