PODCAST—When will
fans return to the
arena for live sports?

Sports fans are ready to re-enter the arena to support their teams

January 27, 2021

As football fans eagerly await next month’s big game, the NFL is rolling out the red carpet for some 7500 vaccinated health care workers across the United States. They’ll be joining an additional 14,500 fans at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium, which will be filled to about a third of its capacity to facilitate social distancing.

There’s no getting around the fact that football’s ultimate competition will look very different this year. But sports fans are eager to return to the arena for in-person events — even if the experience is a far cry from past events. Social distancing is just one element of the health and safety precautions that will need to be put in place. Face coverings, hand hygiene stations, first aid areas and directional signage are all on the table to make fans feel more secure.

In this Building Places podcast, Research Director James Cook talks to JLL’s National Director of Sports and Entertainment, Jim Renne, and President of Monumental Sports & Entertainment, David Touhey, about how the sports and entertainment industry is preparing to safely re-enter arenas for live sports and in-person events.

James Cook : [00:00:00] Live sports and concerts are not what they used to be. Some have been canceled. Others are operating in bubbles and some are just being done without fans in the stands. So I wanted to know, when do we get back to normal? What is the timeline for a return to the arena?

To find out, I'm talking with a sports and entertainment expert and the person in charge of management of the arena in DC, where the capitals and the wizards play

This is building places where we look at the world of commercial real estate through the eyes of the experts that study it every day. My name is James Cook and I research real estate for J L L.

Jim Renne: [00:00:43] my name is Jim Ronnie. I'm the national director of sports entertainment. For JLL.

 Dave Touhey: [00:00:48] David Toohey, I'm president of venues for monumental sports and entertainment.

 James Cook : [00:00:52] David the big question that I want to answer is what is going to become of the fan experience. But before we get into that, What was your personal experience?

 at monumental, when COVID hit, you get the lockdowns and, and, and what happens? What's your reaction

Dave Touhey: [00:01:12] well, you know, honestly, we were, it was the end of February. I was actually home, sick with the flu, which I question now whether it was the flu or COVID and just didn't know about it. I was literally at home and got an email and it was like, we should probably get a task force together to talk about COVID. And I was like, Wait, it's not here. Like what's going on? What did I miss

 we started to look at our events and could we do them with no fans, which was back in March

And what would, what would it look like? Could we do it? You know, we started putting out hand sanitizer. We started, you know, putting up signs about washing hands, all those early things, that you did. And then we had an event, we had a caps game on March 10th. We were supposed to have Celine Dion on March 11th and, Celine canceled.

we were sitting around the night that that was supposed to happen. And, mayor Bowzer had hosted a conference call or, or maybe it was her chief of staff with a lot of the entertainment venues and to talk about what we could do or couldn't do what precautions we were taking, just trying to figure out everything.

James Cook : [00:02:14] Obviously sports fans are well aware of what happened next, but how did the sports world transform? How did you do your different events? And did you do anything?

Dave Touhey: [00:02:26] no , we hosted our first event in 10 months. Just this past Thursday, which was a NBA preseason game, you know the MBA came that came out that night. And, and they, they shut those games down and they, and soon after it definitely paused, the season, the NHL was about 12 to 24 hours behind them just because it hadn't impacted them directly.

 I think the next day, in fact, we were supposed to have a NHL game on the Thursday, and I think everyone knew it wasn't going to happen, but the announcement had not come out and the league had not officially postponed it, but.

Neither team was there, like the equipment guys. I can't remember who we were playing, but the equipment guys were literally sitting in the truck, in the building with the equipment loaded in it, ready to drive to the airport, instead of kind of like setting it up for the game. That's how confident everybody was that the season was going to be canceled, but they couldn't really drive away and get on the plane until it canceled.

James Cook : [00:03:22] Jim, I want to ask what's your perspective, are you seeing different scenarios in different regions of the country? What's your take from a national level?

 Jim Renne: [00:03:32] let me just, let me start really by saying, you know, when. When this hit the industry, I mean, well, hit the world and all its industries,

 seasoned stopped basically no more performance, no more fans. Frankly all our projects stopped

 You know, we're all trying to figure out what's going on. And, I started talking to, current and previous clients , including, , immediately baseball, right.

So their season's just getting started and they're trying to figure out well, Oh my gosh, what did we do? So a lot of conversations since I was having between the MLB NFL, in fact, at that point in time, because. Major league baseball, getting ready. Does it make sense to even have a season? All these conversations were going on?

During that time there was interesting. We came up with an idea of call pods, which I heard was implemented in some of the football team where the idea was to really kind of isolate smaller groups of people.

And so we've, we try to figure out how do you get above say 18 or 20% capacity, so it just sort of understanding how do you get more people in, in the same real in the real estate you have?

So we spent a lot of time trying to figure out these different strategies. You know, some were employed, some not 

 Ultimately, I think there's going to be a consideration for, the technologies were, were kind of already there. You know, a lot of the cashless technologies and to his point, I think he just got accelerated all of a sudden kind of brought it to market as quickly as possible.

You know, I think anything has to do with touchless, I think is going to be probably standard these days. 

James Cook : [00:05:02] I don't know a ton about this, but the proposal that I had seen from ticket master was that when you got your ticket, you would. Somehow it would connect with your health records and it would say yes, you had a COVID negative test recently or yes, you'd had the vaccine. And then that would kind of, give the green light that would let your ticket work.

Dave Touhey: [00:05:23] So Ticketmaster is really a, a facilitator, right? Buildings have integrated with Ticketmaster to be the service provider for selling tickets, and then ticket master has partnerships with, a variety of partners that support that. And so one of the things that they, have done in response to this pandemic, but in try and get people back, obviously, Ticketmaster relies on ticket sales and people coming to events is the root of their business.

 So there's a big value for them in helping us get people back in. And one of the things that they've done is get a partnership with clear and some labs you know, most people know clear from airports. Clear has been getting involved in sports and entertainment.

We had clear in if one of our entrances. So if you were a clear member, You could come in and it would validate, who, who you were and you, you could come into special interests. Do you still have to go through security, but you could come in your own entrance 

 And, you know, there's a lot of discussion on that. I'm certainly not a deciding factor, for the industry overall, but there's a strong case to be made for , that being a great thing.

And there are, there's a case to be made for, you know, people don't want their medical records, you know, tied to coming to an event.

 James Cook : [00:06:33] When do you think attendance will return to their pre pandemic levels? If you talk to anyone on the entertainment side of the, industry you know, planning, concerts or family shows, you know, that's the big question everyone's facing.

Dave Touhey: [00:06:47] it's a little too early to tell, the light at the end of the tunnel with the vaccine is great. but let's see how quickly it, can get rolled out.

I just think that by summer if they hit the targets that they want, you'll see a lot of people getting vaccinated it's going to take time to turn it back on. you know, tours need, need to be routed. , production needs to be ordered, organized, you know, built out, all these shows are off of the road.

All of these workers are out. So that all needs to come together. It takes months to put a tour together. Overall, the industry is hoping for the fall. But I think it's gonna take a while for recovery. I think you're going to have a good portion of people that are going to come rushing right back and say, you know what?

I got my vaccine, I am good and I'm ready to go. But you have others that are going to say I got my vaccine, but I'm not ready to go to a crowded place.

And I just think that, you know, Small example, but how the overall, society will work and you will have people that will come back. But I think it will be a while before we're, , we're a hundred , percent back, but, but I hope that we'll have shows out , touring and we'll have crowds back in, by the fall.

And as we do that, it'll just keep building and building. And you know, , once people feel safe and in some of that's going to kind of almost be proven.

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Production on this episode of building places was provided by Stephanie Kilgore