There have been a lot of stutters and stops as sports leagues worldwide try to stay active during the pandemic. However, the fact remains that sports are returning. When and how they will return are still being determined.

Future-Proofing With Master Planning

Sports facilities encompass an intricate web of complex, vital systems, and the business model that those systems were predicated on may no longer be viable in a post-COVID-19 future. No matter when leagues return, stadiums, training facilities and staff offices will require reconsiderations on everything from routine maintenance and repair to design adjustments that address how staff, players and fans will interact in those spaces. Where to spend and how to spend precious capital in a downcycle economy will be essential questions for the financial futures of franchises and leagues alike.

In addition to immediate brick and mortar operations and maintenance, the common thread in all master planning for the foreseeable future will be keeping fans safe — and making them feel safe. Many leagues are already setting in motion touchless automation for ticketing, cashless payment systems, adjustments for food and beverage distribution, and social distancing procedures. While a great start, considerations need to go further in order to reimagine the live experience for fans. Human nature will likely drive fans to compare and even reminisce about the pre-pandemic experience. If fans feel uncomfortable at venues or determine the current environment isn’t what it used to be, revenue could decline precipitously.

With limited capacities and reduced schedules, owners and operators could potentially expand the premium model and provide that type of access to more patrons. Existing suites and club levels already deliver elevated fan experiences in smaller, controlled numbers. That model could extend to group ticket sales in other sections of stadiums and arenas for enhanced comfort and safety for fans, while also offering an increased premium revenue opportunity for owners and leagues. After all, with limited capacities and reduced schedules, a fan’s chances to see a favorite team live will already be strained. Therefore, it makes sense that leagues could see an increase in demand for premium access and experience.

These conversations around accommodations should also include sponsorships. High-dollar sponsors will also want to hear innovative, premium solutions to maximize their visibility and value in an impactful way.

While one perfect solution doesn’t exist for all leagues, at least the leagues are not alone. The aviation industry is also attempting to navigate this unknown territory with the utmost safety for travelers. And the return of travelers to airports is not unlike how fans will return to stadiums. Both industries need to meet high consumer expectations in a social environment while keeping people safe and secure. Leagues can learn a lot from the ongoing highs and lows of what airports and airlines have experienced, mainly that flexibility is key.

Establishing an Adaptable Approach

As we’ve learned from industries around the world that have tried to reopen or modify services for safety, the first attempt may not be the right solution, long term. But they have to start somewhere. Take the NFL as it looks ahead to its fall season. The first game most likely will look vastly different than the last game as the league learns what is working and adjusts what is not.

With that in mind, temporary solutions will be needed now with the ability to pivot and implement permanent parameters when established. This will require ongoing assistance from a wide range of specialties, such as program managers, architects, designers, engineers and more. If owners and operators can partner with a robust team that can provide this comprehensive depth of knowledge, that would be the ideal situation to help adapt their approach seamlessly as needed.

A full-service partner can also become familiar with a team or facility’s budget and staffing concerns from day one, making recommendations for the present situation and as it inevitably evolves. After all, leagues are trying to figure out the right way to safely accommodate demand just like every other industry. With detailed planning to identify and overcome potential obstacles, owners and operators can see that the preparation is conducted upfront so they are ready to execute efficiently when decisions are made.


If major public events are to have a sustainable future, now is precisely the time to rethink them. Learn how to take a fresh look at what sustainability and resiliency mean for events and the venues and infrastructure in the cities that host them.

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Jeff Sittner leads development for sports, performance and entertainment at Burns & McDonnell. With nearly 30 years of experience, he has extensive knowledge in all phases of the architectural process, including expansion, renovation and creative visioning of professional sports venues and large-scale developments.