When baseball returns, teams will need to sell safety as part of the new fan experience. First up in MLB is Yankee Stadium, where the New York Yankees upgraded procedures to earn a WELL Health-Safety Rating, the first one awarded to a sports venue worldwide.
The polls conducted since MLB shut down spring training and postponed the 2020 season are clear: fans say they will attend fewer events while needing reassurances that cleanliness is addressed adequately by venue operators. In this study from Performance Research, based on polling of over 1,000 representative U.S. consumers, two-thirds claimed they will be more worried about cleanliness/sanitation of the venue overall (66 percent), cleanliness of the restrooms (66 percent), and cleanliness of the food service area (65 percent) as they debate a return. A majority (59 percent) reported their concern about crowding or close contact with strangers will be higher than it was pre-pandemic.
Those concerns are addressed by the WELL Health-Safety Rating from the WELL Building Institute(IWBI), as Yankee Stadium is the first sports and entertainment venue in the world to achieve the WELL Health-Safety Rating for Facility Operations and Management. Launched in June as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the WELL Health-Safety Rating incorporates 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, recognized standard-making bodies like ASTM International and ASHRAE, and leading academic and research institutions.
“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,” said IWBI president Rachel Gutter in announcing the certification. “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.”
According to the Yankees and IWBI officials, Yankee Stadium achieved the third-party-verified rating by focusing on these five areas:
- Air and water quality management, which includes the assessment of ventilation and fresh air supply through mechanical or natural means and reviewing inventory of all filters and ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) equipment.
- Cleaning and sanitization procedures, including 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, which provide a blueprint for dealing with unforeseen events and providing an actionable plan for re-entry after an emergency event.
- Health service resources, which promote the well-being of employees through screening services, mental health services, seasonal vaccination programs and a smoke-free environment.
- Stakeholder engagement and communications, which include employing proper signage throughout Yankee Stadium and promoting health literacy to employees, partners and patrons, including food service safety verification.
“Achieving the WELL Health-Safety Rating for us was vitally important,” said Senior Vice President for Stadium Operations Doug Behar. “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.”
There are already other performance-based accreditations on the market, focusing on different parts of the fan experience. Chase Center, Staples Center and Hard Rock Stadium have received Global Biorisk Advisory Council’s (GBAC) STAR facility accreditation. GBAC is a division of ISSA, the worldwide cleaning industry association, and the accreditation means Chase Center implements the most stringent protocols for cleaning, disinfection and infectious disease prevention. To achieve GBAC STAR accreditation, Chase Center demonstrated compliance with the program’s 20 core elements, which ranging from standard operating procedures and risk assessment strategies to personal protective equipment and emergency preparedness and response measures.
While the STAR facility accreditation focuses on cleanliness, the WELL Health-Safety Rating is a broader approach to facility management, Gutter said, an approach undertaken by the Yankees way back in March at the spring-training complex in Tampa after the season was delayed, continuing at Yankee Stadium once Summer Camp launched.
“It was a challenge, for sure,” Behar said. “As all of are aware this has been a very fluid situation from the beginning. There was a lot of uncertainty, a lot of unknowns.” The team launched their own containment plan before MLB issued their protocols, giving them a head start on the safety front.
And while there are no current plans to open up Yankee Stadium to fans this season, the additional protocols inspired by the IBWI process will serve fans well next spring and summer.
“There are a lot of boxes to check throughout this [process], and the nice thing about this safety rating is that we were able to look at some of things we were doing in a way that we did not think we needed to,” Behar said. That would include basic things like worker education and training to appropriately using PPE, to installing new purification machinery, like a low-dose hydrogen-peroxide system installed in the HVAC system to kill airborne pathogens, a technology already used in hospitals. These efforts will continue at Yankee Stadium past the current season.
“For us it seems too logical to not keep these measures in place forever,” Behar added. “We’re talking about cleaning and disinfection, and this goes beyond COVID-19.”