Every industry is currently preparing for a pivot. Restaurant owners are preparing to change the way their restaurants operate as they reopen. As the focus of Americans shifts from staying home to reopening, fans are wondering what changes they can expect to sports and live events in stadiums in the long-term future.
Stadium operators and owners are already thinking about ways to relieve congestion to support social distancing in the concourse. One way to combat a congested concourse is by keeping the flow of foot traffic moving so people are not gridlocked and close together. To keep the flow of traffic, stadium operators will have to change their brick-and-mortar stands, whether it’s a concession stand, bar or merchandise store, without changing the whole brick and mortar of the stadium.
Concession stands are usually 50 by 15 feet with six feet of counter space and a line that can be as long as 30 feet perpendicular to the stand. Having a line perpendicular to the stand ultimately blocks the flow of traffic. So, stadiums might look into turning the line of people to be parallel with the stand and the flow of traffic. Similar to what we see at a sandwich counter, fans can move along the line, picking out assorted items. This better uses the square footage and keeps the flow of the concourse moving.
Better usage of square footage will be critical for stadiums. Another way to create better usage is by putting in lockers for stands. Stadiums will need a way for fans to order food or merchandise online. Lockers do not require the stadium to be redesigned and could actually be safer for stadium workers because they will no longer need to have human-to-human interactions.
Fans can expect to see “ghost” or virtual kitchens in stadiums in due time. This would eliminate cashiers in stadiums, which may be a blessing because staffing is a huge problem in the stadium space. Virtual kitchens do not require as much space as a stand that is fully staffed. If the stadium has capabilities to notify fans that their orders are ready, it will keep fans from waiting around the stand for their food.
Lastly, teams and leagues are going to start digitizing everything to make sure every aspect of the fan experience is contactless. Major League Baseball has taken its stab at this with the MLB Ballpark app, which gives fans access to their tickets and parking spaces. Most professional sports teams already have an app where fans can check schedules, stats and team information. Expect to have an app similar to this for every team or league so fans can experience everything from concession and merchandise ordering to in-game sponsorships and rewards. A great case study of this is the Dubai Mall app. The Dubai Mall hosts over 80 million people per year and has thousands of retail and restaurant spaces. On the app, visitors can shop before they even enter the mall.
The world is always changing and adapting. The sports industry will have to do the same in order to have even more success than it had before. The changes the sports industry makes will set a standard for the rest of history. It may take a while to adjust, but fans will eventually be back cheering on their teams and watching their favorite live events.