By Jeff Davis, CVP, CMP, CVE
For my friends in the faith-based community who are continuing to hold events and services, who are out there saying this is all fear-driven, who are throwing bible verses around … please stop. Please take a moment to understand the facts.
I oversee two public assembly venues with a total capacity of nearly 10,000 people, or the size of a small town. I’m very cognizant in providing a safe, secure environment for events to take place. Less than a week ago, I was promoting the continuation of events. Sure, I was watching the developments of the Coronavirus closely, and we were proactively implementing changes to provide a safer environment – adding hand sanitizer stations, doubling and tripling our cleaning and disinfecting procedures during events, wiping down surfaces, the same actions other venues, stores, restaurants, and churches are doing. I was supporting events and within days, rather, hours, that stance changed.
The decision to support the mass cancellation of events… the decision to close our venues and bring entire industries to a halt was not an easy one. Days later, it’s still very surreal. But one thing I can assure you, it was NOT driven by fear. It was based on facts. It was a result of taking time to educate ourselves, understanding what was happening in other parts of the world, and making a conscious effort to help get ahead of this pandemic. It was about taking a radical step to be part of the solution knowing it would disrupt normalcy for a while. It was the right thing to do.
So please stop saying that this shut down is just a reaction out of fear. Please take some time to understand the “why” behind this effort. There are numerous resources about “flattening the curve” and simulations on how this slows the spread of a virus. Understand that these radical decisions are to give our healthcare system – doctors, nurses, and the industry that supports them – a fighting chance to help treat those who will need that level of care in the coming days as the virus spreads, rather than overwhelming them and crippling the system, as it has in other countries.
Yes, as a society, we are navigating uncharted waters with this kind of a response. And the natural reaction to uncertainty, much of it fed by media and uninformed people, is anxiety, fear, and panic. Don’t be a part of the problem. Don’t throw around bible verses that come across as judgmental. And please don’t continue to hold gatherings thinking you’re safe because “it only affects a small percentage” or “it’s not in our area yet.” Look at China, Italy, Spain and others, and how it all started with ONE person introducing the virus in those countries. And it quickly overwhelmed them. And odds are, it may already be more widespread in your area than you realize. We’re really just now beginning widespread testing for the virus, and still today, there are many suspected cases that are not being tested for various reasons or limited test kits/testing resources.
To paraphrase from a post I recently saw: On the backside of this, we may look back and say we overreacted and did way too much. But I would rather look back saying that, than looking back and saying we did way too little, too late.
Please understand what you can do in this effort. Educate your friends, family, and social groups. Don’t be afraid to take radical steps that will help save lives. Lead by example. Do the right thing. Offer hope and encouragement in a time that many are uncertain of what the future holds.
Jeff Davis, CVP, CMP, CVE, is Executive Director for UTA Special Event Facilities at the University of Texas at Arlington.
By R.V. Baugus
“Hey, R.V., it’s Rachel at the Alamodome. Where are you?”
Two long-time friends and I had started our drive from Dallas to San Antonio the morning of March 12 to enjoy what had become a new tradition — watching the Texas boys’ state high school basketball tournament. We had already discussed plenty on our drive, including the decision made by the National Basketball Association just the night before to suspend its season. We knew that many meetings and conventions had either canceled or postponed around the country as COVID-19 coronavirus had made its way into the United States. I shared with my friends the impact our public assembly venue industry would face in terms of lost events that may or may not be rescheduled. As we drove, we already knew that even the tournament we were going to see that brings in 24 teams and communities from around the state to participate in six classifications in semifinals and then championships would be witnessed only by fans who had pre-purchased tickets and that no tickets would be sold at the box office to help keep the crowd attendance and thus any risk of coronavirus lower. At the time, the NCAA said it would operate its March Madness with games played but no fans inside the venues. It all sounded so surreal.
Back to Rachel’s question. As the awesome administrative assistant to the awesome Alamodome General Manager Steve Zito, Rachel Arredondo’s question immediately sent my mind into two options before I even replied. One, her question was asked to tell us that wherever we were at on our drive to continue on down I-35 toward San Antonio. The second option was the more realistic one to me, that the tournament was going to operate under a vastly different set of circumstances or perhaps be canceled or postponed.
“We just drove past Waco and headed toward Temple,” I answered, an indication that we were still at least a couple of hours from San Antonio, depending on notorious I-35 traffic.
Sure enough, Rachel began confirming option two for me.
“Steve is in a meeting with the UIL (University Interscholastic League, which oversees Texas high school athletics) right now deciding whether to cancel the rest of the tournament,” she said. “I’ll call you again as soon as I know for sure.”
We took a quick yay-or-nay vote and decided that the guys’ trip was still on and that we would push onward to San Antonio. Before reaching Austin, Rachel phoned once more to share that, indeed, the remainder of the tournament was canceled.
We reached Austin and went to Matt’s El Rancho for some Mexican food. We were seated in an area near the bar with four or five televisions surrounding us tuned to sports programming. Aside from us, four young male business professionals were seated nearby and riveted to THE PLAYERS Championship golf tournament that sufficed as the lone, live sports event being shown on all the televisions. As we munched down chips, the nearby guys yelled out, “Come back!” a phrase that called into a hit golf ball finding reverse spin to come back closer to the cup. Or, it could have been a plea from anyone working at the restaurant toward any exiting patron on a day when it did seem that business was lighter than normal at this iconic establishment.
We later arrived at the La Quinta Medical Center location in San Antonio and upon walking to the elevators noticed a television in the dining area tuned to one of the news channels covering everything coronavirus. It would prove to be how we spent quite a bit of our own time while at the hotel, just watching news and hearing reports that sounded surreal at the time only to have another layer of news piled on top that was even more jaw-dropping.
Just the previous Sunday at church, our pastor delivered a message dealing with fear. Now, five days later, I got to put that message into practice, as did we all. I believe in the importance of striking a balance as best as possible between taking common-sense precautions with our health and listening to those more expert than me to give me some solid principles and advice. I also do not think it is healthy to take a “sky is falling” attitude. To better understand the latter, try buying bottled water, sanitizer, wipes, or toilet tissue at your neighborhood store. Chances are you can’t, because if your community is like mine, none of those products remain on shelves.
When normally we would wake up on Friday morning in San Antonio excited to drive over to the Alamodome to watch the Class 2A semifinals that start at 8:30 a.m., there was no such urgency, so it was an opportunity to sleep in some.
Crystal Howard is a friend who has worked for years at this particular La Quinta location, and prior to heading out for lunch we saw Crystal and got some of her take on the situation. She said (not surprisingly) that the hotel industry already felt the crunch caused by guest cancellations that in many cases were caused by event cancellations. The trickle-down effect was in full force and once again reminded me of the impact in our very own association and membership.
Later that afternoon, I made may way over to the Alamodome to try and see Steve Zito. His schedule, like many of yours, had to have been incredibly chaotic in having last-minute meetings and making some very critical decisions or being at least a party to those decisions. Sure enough, Steve was just about on his way out the office door for a meeting elsewhere in the venue, but still shared with me some of his last 24 hours.
Steve revealed that all the schools and coaches were on board with the revised lower-attendance seating decision. He had also returned to his office late the previous night to be in conversations about Fiesta San Antonio, the city’s biggest annual event scheduled for April that had been postponed until November due to the pandemic. The 11-day party generates more than $340 million in economic impact to the community.
Wednesday became Thursday, and in addition to the NBA announcing its suspension on Wednesday night and the NCAA changing its status from “attendance with essential personnel only” to cancellation of March Madness, Steve found himself in more meetings around the noon hour once again with the UIL to discuss the tournament even as its third game was in progress below on the Alamodome basketball court.
And so, like its counterparts at the collegiate and professional level, the boys’ state high school basketball tournament would conclude once that third game between Dallas Madison and Coldspring-Oakhurst finished. There remains a possibility of continuing the tournament at some point, but that is a conversation and meeting for another day, not while the stoked fires of coronavirus are trying to be extinguished around the country.
We spent one last night in one of the greatest cities anywhere before driving back to Dallas on Saturday. Such a drive on I-35 means one more trip through traffic-snarled Austin, but that was not the case this particular day. This was to be the weekend in Austin for the South by Southwest Festival, an event that generates millions for the city’s economy and in fact helped lead to the basketball tournament moving from Austin to San Antonio just a few years earlier.
But on this day and this weekend there would be no SXSW in Austin, no crazy traffic, no energy generated by crowds and by events, the very things that make our business pop. No, it would be a pretty uneventful drive back home while we all awaited the next batch of coronavirus news to come along.
Photos: The Alamodome’s new court got in only three games before tournament play was halted, while outside on the marquee facing I-10, a most practical message was delivered.
On behalf of the IAVM Board of Directors and Staff, we would like to extend our deepest concern and support for our members, friends, colleagues and events impacted by the current 2019 novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) health emergency. As you know, IAVM remains in constant contact with federal and local agencies, as well as our membership, regarding the current status of how COVID-19 is affecting our industry so as to stay abreast of the situation to make the best decisions and offer support. We encourage you to keep checking using and commenting on our own VenueNet and our COVID-19 Outbreak Resources webpage for more information.
We are supported and being encouraged by the Executive Committee to offer town hall focused webinars to keep our industry informed and collaborating professional to professional. We are working now to schedule those, and will provide information on those offerings soon.
The Executive Committee has also called a full board meeting for later today to discuss ways in which we can better serve our members during this time of challenge. We will send out additional information regarding the board meeting soon after.
*As of today, SES, VMS, VC20 remain scheduled. This is subject to change daily as we watch the effects of COVID-19 unfold.
As always, IAVM leadership and staff are here to assist in any way we possibly can. Do not hesitate to reach out for assistance.
Brad Mayne, CVE
IAVM President & CEO
By R.V. Baugus
UPDATE: The NBA has announced the remainder of its regular season is suspended, March Madness basketball games will be played at venues without fans attending.
The call came innocently enough on Sunday night from not only my best friend but a buddy I attended 35 consecutive Southwest Conference/Big 12 Basketball Tournaments with and now attend the Texas boys’ high school basketball state tournament in San Antonio.
“Is the tournament still on?”
Yep, a coronavirus question. The answer is the tournament is still on at the Alamodome. Venue director and friend Steve Zito and his team just successfully completed the girls’ state tournament last weekend and like all other venues taking all the precautions necessary to keep everyone who enters the dome safe.
In hindsight, my friend’s question was not foolish, especially at the rate that events are either getting postponed or simply canceled due to the spread of COVID-19, coronavirus. As the virus has migrated west since originating in China, the United States now finds its meetings and sports industries in daily flux as circumstances continue playing out.
Colleague Amy Fitzpatrick and I only half-joked the other day that to write any kind of blog or story about coronavirus instantly becomes outdated with changes taking place by the minute. Heck, as I am typing this another event could be added to the list and the news that we are doing our best to keep members up to date with.
We even announced last week that the New York International Auto Show car expo at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center was going to take place April 10-19. It turns out we spoke too soon as a recent announcement indicated the event is rescheduled for August 28-September 6 for a show that has topped 1 million attendees.
According to Forbes, more than 9.6 million attendees have been impacted and forced to change their plans thus far in the U.S. due to the coronavirus global spread. Hundreds of conferences, concerts, and other events worldwide have been canceled, postponed or transformed into “digital-only” affairs.
There will also be a lot less green to share as St. Patrick’s Day parades across the country are canceling.
College basketball conference postseason tournaments are also taking place with the Ivy League tournament to be held in Cambridge, Massachusetts, announcing it was canceling its tournament that drew more than 7,700 fans last year.
In chatting with my friend Sunday night, I mentioned how the ATP tennis tournament in Indian Wells, California, was configured to where the players would have their own towels in chairs behind them to use and that ball boys would be wearing gloves and not allowed any direct contact with the athletes. I spoke too soon as the next day the tournament scheduled to begin on March 9 was canceled. It has previously drawn 450,000 attendees.
Music festivals across the country are being shuttered, with the popular SXSW festival and conference in Austin, Texas that drew close to 420,000 guests last year pulling the plug this year.
In the pro sports world, the NBA, MLB, NHL, and MLS have closed locker rooms to all nonessential personnel — including media — in response to the coronavirus crisis.
While we will not be able to communicate in legitimate real-time through any of our social platforms here at IAVM because of the aforementioned mention reasons, we still want to provide you with the news and the knowledge that you need during these important times.
You will find the links below very helpful, so please refer to them. We also invite you to share any news at your own venues of events being canceled or postponed, or anything else that is news worthy to share with your colleagues. Simply contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will get the information out.
By R.V. Baugus
Sports Facilities and the Law is a newsletter by Gil Fried, J.D. – Chair in the College of Business Sport Management Department at the University of New Haven, as well as nine other sports law related periodicals. The newsletter has close to 1,000 opt-in legal-minded and risk conscious subscribers that manage sport/athletic facilities, are responsible for league/conference safety, provide legal counsel to sport/athletic entities, or are in charge of risk management. These are not low level employees, but rather decision makers who control the budget or can mandate that a professional sport league undertake a given strategy.
With risk management and safety strategies so critical today, the newsletter’s goal over the last three years has been to promote safety.
“There is no price that can be put on safety,” Fried said. “We also understand that at times you need content that helps your members address specific safety challenges. To that end, we would be interested in sharing content, publishing your news, and featuring your organization/conference on the website in exchange for helping us grow our subscriber base.”
To subscribe to the publication, go to https://sportsfacilitieslaw.com/latestissue.