RiverDogs Release Plan To Modify Ballpark Experience In Age Of COVID-19
Nobody knows for sure when—or if—the 2020 minor league season will begin at stadiums around the country. The outbreak of the novel coronavirus has put the entire sport on pause and already forced the cancellation of five of the 11 scheduled all-star games in the minor leagues.
Unlike the major leagues, which can gain significant revenue if it has to play games without fans, teams in the minors need fans in the seats. With that in mind, the pandemic has caused teams to begin thinking about how they can best operate their park while still adhering to any social-distancing policies that may be in place when the gates can re-open.
On Friday morning, the Charleston RiverDogs, the Yankees’ low Class A affiliate in the South Atlantic League, released a document detailing exactly how they plan to modify operations at Joseph P. Riley Park for the new version of normal created by COVID-19.
There will still be three outs in an inning, three strikes to an out and four balls to a walk, but just about everything else at the park will look and feel markedly different.
Buying tickets, food and merchandise will be an entirely cashless operation. Doing so limits contact between employees and fans, and thus limits one potential avenue for the virus to spread.
The team will also close select ticket windows to help maintain social distancing requirements. These new guidelines also mark a halt on physical tickets. All tickets will now be emailed to fans’ mobile devices. The exception to the rule regards group or season-ticket holders, who will have the option of contactless ticket pickup.
No tickets will be printed or handed out on-site.
Once in the park, fans—aside from family members—will not be seated next to one another. The RiverDogs plan to create an updated seating manifest that, while reducing the amount of fans allowed through the gates, will keep the required social distance between fans.
“Rows and seats will remain vacant to maintain proper distancing between familial parties,” the document reads.
The same is true for other areas of the park, including group areas like suites and concession stands, which will operate with reduced capacity in order to maintain social distancing.
To keep the ballpark as germ-free as possible, the team will add hand-sanitizing stations throughout the park and “will consider” spraying surfaces with a no-wipe disinfectant throughout the game. The team will also consider the use of ionizers or disinfectant foggers in heavily trafficked areas throughout the stadiums.
The Kids Zone attractions like bounce houses or playgrounds will be closed. Other fan-interaction areas will have guidelines to help fans maintain proper social distancing.
The concourses will now be divided into two lanes—one going one way, the other going the other way—in order to minimize any mishmashes of fans that would interfere with social distancing requirements. There will also be markers on the concourse to help fans maintain the required 6 feet between one another.
In the event of a rainstorm, the team will “expand access to covered areas to ensure proper distancing.”
Restroom doors will be propped open so fans do not have to touch them prior to entry and exit. The restrooms will be sanitized frequently throughout games and will be hit with an enzyme solution prior to the conclusion of each homestand. The team also plans to work with the city of Charleston to increase touchless options in their restrooms, including toilets, faucets and towel dispensers that operate via motion sensor. Every other sink and urinal will be disabled to allow for social distancing.
The team store will operate with a limited capacity and will have markers placed to encourage social distancing while inside.
Perhaps the biggest change for some fans, autograph sessions with players will no longer be permitted. Players will also not be allowed to throw baseballs, bats, etc. into the seating areas for fans.
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On-field, between-inning contests will have to be conducted in a manner that adheres to social distancing requirements, and fans throwing ceremonial first pitches will now do so while wearing a mask and gloves. Ceremonial first pitchers will also throw the pitch to a family member instead of a RiverDogs player.
A sneeze-guard will also be placed on the microphone stand when the National Anthem is sung.
Fans who are hungry or thirsty will face new requirements, too. They will be greeted at concession stands by workers wearing masks and gloves and will be required to get condiments from an employee on the concourse. All condiments will be pre-packaged as well.
The RiverDogs plan to hire additional staff to disinfect surfaces before, during and after games.
Entry and exit of the ballpark will also require fans to be socially distanced, including on sidewalks and stairways in and out of the ballpark. The team will utilize additional gates to make the entry and exit processes somewhat less tedious than they would be while still practicing social distancing.
Fans aren’t the only ones who will have to adjust in the age of COVID. Stadium employees are going to have to make adjustments too.
Every full-time, part-time or third-party staff member—including interns—will have to have their temperature checked upon entering the park. All staff who deal with fans—ticket-takers, concession workers, ushers, ballpark hosts—will be required to wear gloves and masks, as is dictated by the policy of the day.
Those employees will also be prohibited from handshaking or other physical contact with fans or other employees, will be required to wear gloves when handing things like food or merchandise and will also be required to wash their hands and put on a new pair of gloves before each shift.
The players and coaches, of course, will also be affected by the new normal, and the RiverDogs have put guidelines in place regarding their interactions with fans and ballpark staff.
Most notably, media and team staff are likely to be prohibited from the clubhouse. Any traditional buffet-style spread will be converted into pre-packaged meals and utensils for players during the pre- and postgame. There will also be limitations placed on items that are normally spit when discarded—i.e. sunflower seeds and gum.
The RiverDogs will also follow the guidance from the Yankees and the league about how best to manage players in the dugouts and at other points throughout the game.