by Ben Dubiel and Alexis Fiore, Industrial Engineers at Integrated Insight
Published September 14, 2020
It’s early September, the weather is starting to cool, and our team couldn’t shake the desire to go out and watch a football game. While we are in the middle of an active pandemic, many attractions and other activities have shown they can safely open with good planning and limited capacity. This was put to the test with the Jacksonville Jaguars being one of two teams in the NFL that allowed fans in the stadium this weekend.
Tickets on the secondary market were a good value, with lower bowl seats going for $65 and upper deck available for $23. Our count of occupied seats identified an attendance of approximately 15-18% of capacity with large sections of available seats completely empty. The upper deck was sparsely populated, with some sections having less than 4% of seats filled.
This game was not an outlier for low attendance. The Kansas City Chiefs did not sell out their limited capacity for their season opener despite last year’s Super Bowl win. This could be a sign that fans aren’t yet ready to return to large scale events as some have speculated.
Given the general absence of sports content over the past 6 months, we figured we would replicate a common trope in sports journalism – the grading column.
The entry experience was very pleasant, even while we arrived at what was expected to be the peak, 20 minutes prior to game time. Parking was straight forward and the walk to the stadium was encouraging. Everyone was keeping their distance and there was a steady and spaced flow of fans. There was no crowding at the entrance, with an over-abundance of “S.A.F.E.” team members holding signs reminding guests to wear masks. The evenly distributed arrival pattern matched our observations from other attractions where guests seem to leave extra time for parking and arrival.
Finding seats for our group of two was more difficult than expected due to mandated grouping “pods.” These pods were enforced by zip-tying all seats that weren’t sold. Three pods per row were sold, and every other row was left completely empty. This resulted in the middle pod group having to step over one of the end-of-row pods to access their seats. Stepping over another group could have been avoided if the middle-seated pod was placed in the empty row instead.
The safety protocols in place were exceptional. Masks were provided at the entrances and branded cloth masks were given out at every seat. Sanitizer stations were freshly installed every 100 feet, and five out of six bathrooms had a cleaning attendant in them when visited.
Fan Experience: B+
Even with the extremely low attendance, the experience was amazing. The stadium at 15% full sounded 50% full. Fans were having a great time and the game was close; allowing fans on both sides to get engaged. Social distancing and masks clearly weren’t some fans top priority, but the “S.A.F.E.” team was strictly enforcing all safety policies.
Food and Beverage: D-
The food and beverage operation seemed well planned but poorly executed. A mobile ordering platform was developed and easy to use. The mobile platform said we would receive a text as soon as our order was ready in “less than 5 minutes.” After 30 minutes and no text, we walked to the location where the staff told us they did not have the ability to text fans when orders were ready. Eliminating the text feature and giving fans an estimated time to pick up their order would have created a better experience.
Socially distanced queues for in-person ordering were also available, but with only 73% of locations open, in-person ordering became a problem at halftime. As we’ve observed at theme parks, grocery stores, and restaurants, without ground markings, monitoring, and reinforcement by staff, crowds will not social distance themselves. Queues that extended beyond the ground markers stacked up and groups were back-to-back 30 people deep.
Spacing between ground markings is an opportunity for future games. The six-foot mandate is good guidance for groups of one. But a group of four creates a different dynamic and will require almost double the space of a single guest. The bottom line: well-meaning plans can quickly break down if variability is not considered.
Game conditions were a perfect storm for crowding on departure. The Jaguars were up 7 points with 2:30 left, so everyone stayed until the end. Once the game finished, fans started pouring out, but the limited number provided a fairly positive experience. The only crowding observed was for the escalator and elevators coming from the upper deck of the stadium and outside the stadium at the first major intersection. These bottlenecks weren’t helped by attendants who separated groups on escalators by 40 feet. Read our article, Solving Elevator Transportation During Covid-19, for more information on optimizing accessibility.
Our focus over the past six months has been using Artificial Intelligence to help operators plan reopening safely and profitably.
The movie below shows the arrival and departure patterns for a small stadium. Additional perspectives on concourses and halftime are being added. Through simulation, organizations are able to visually show their plans for safe reopening.
It was fantastic to get to see live football again, and when Johnathan Taylor broke that 35-yard screen pass the world seemed normal for a few moments. Seeing people enjoying shared experiences again was the most inspiring moment of the day. Great motivation to help others get the chance to cheer on their favorite team.
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