The Future of Sporting Events with Comerica Park and Michigan International SpeedwayJune 9, 2021
COVID-19 Town Hall: The Future of Sporting Events with Comerica Park and Michigan International Speedway Leaders
Professional sporting organizations are welcoming fans back into their stands as venue capacity restrictions in Michigan have lifted. Rick Brenner, president of Michigan International Speedway, and Chris Lawrence, vice president of operations for Comerica Park, joined the Detroit Regional Chamber’s virtual audience for a COVID-19 Town Hall on how they are welcoming fans back safely. Brad Williams, vice president of government relations at the chamber, engaged in a discussion with Brenner and Lawrence on changes they have implemented to the on-site experience for their transition back to in-person events.
Safety at the forefront of our thought process
Major League Baseball (MLB) began its regular season in 2020 amid the global COVID-19 pandemic, going without a live audience of fans. It was a new normal during an unprecedented time. Sporting organizations such as MLB, players, staffers, and fans alike had to immediately get used to the sights and sounds of empty stadiums during live games.
“Where we started last season in April versus what we know now about the virus – things are totally different,” explained Lawrence. Comerica Park is now welcoming back fans in-person without capacity limits for the first time in a year. “We got a little teaser last year and learned a lot of what was expected of us, and what things worked and didn’t work,” said the venue’s vice president of operations.
In fact, Lawrence said throughout the various COVID-19 restrictions on venues and in-person events, Comerica Park has remained focused on ensuring the safety of its staffers and maintaining “consumer confidence.”
“What’s going to be important for our consumers? How do we provide a safe environment for them? I think preparing this year was really focused on health and safety protocols the MLB put out,” shared Lawrence.
Protocols still in place
Likewise, as Michigan International Speedway prepares for the return of racing fans this summer, its president said the venue would continue to “lean heavily on the Department of Health and Human Services for guidance and protocols.”
“Safety is at the forefront of our thought process in our sport and at our facility,” said Brenner.
Racing was the first major sport to welcome fans back in 2020 amidst the pandemic, according to Brenner. He said while capacity limits have lifted this year, safety remains the top priority.
“You’ll see and continue to see plenty of handwashing stations, and those kinds of things. We’re going to pay close attention to whatever protocols permit us to create that first class experience in a safe atmosphere for our fans, guests, and competitors,” explained Brenner.
“There’s still protocols in place,” said Lawrence while describing Comerica Park’s continued use of handwashing stations, purifying filters, plexiglass barriers, cashless transitions, and no bag policy.
An education process
“There was definitely an education process,” said Lawrence about communicating Comerica Park’s current safety protocols to fans who are back to purchasing in-person tickets. “I think we really had to work with our communications team and social media team, and ticketing folks to really ensure that we got out that message of all the new protocols that are in place. But for the most part, I think people welcomed them,” added Lawrence.
Brenner said he found it important to inform returning fans of new protocols because they likely may not know where COVID-19 precautions currently stand.
“It is an education to let fans know ‘this is the new normal,’ which is a lot like the old normal with some additional cautions and precautions for them to be a part of and enjoy,” said Brenner.
Incentives to encourage more vaccinations?
Williams asked Lawrence and Brenner if their venues are currently engaged in actions or initiatives to encourage fans to participate in vaccination or other public health programs.
“Our government affairs team has worked really hard directly with the CDC and the White House and has helped push out different programs in different states,” said Brenner. “We are in touch with the Department of Health and Human Services to create our own Michigan specific version.”
Lawrence highlighted Comerica Park’s partnership with MLB and the Fox Theatre in downtown Detroit to offer game tickets in exchange for getting a COVID-19 vaccine. From Wednesday, June 8 until Sunday, June 13, anyone can visit the new pop-up clinic at Fox Theatre to get a Pfizer or Johnson & Johnson vaccine to receive a voucher for two free tickets to any regular season Tigers’ game played at Comerica Park, as well as a $10 Meijer coupon.
“I think across all 30 teams that offer is happening in some capacity,” said Lawrence. “I think you’re going to see that for a while now. It’s going to tickle out until we can really exhaust every opportunity available.”