REPRINT FROM SPORTS BUSINESS JOURNAL
Monday, February 22, 2021
One year ago, the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, shuttering businesses, schools and the economy while altering our way of life forever. The entire sports world also came to a standstill. Given the unifying power of sports, the sudden stoppage of play was a shock for us as athletes as it was for millions of sports fans in the U.S. and around the world. While thankfully we are hitting the ice again and the NFL just completed its first season since the onset of the coronavirus, things are still not normal or where they need to be. Yes, the vaccines are here and they will help greatly once widely available, but we need to get fans back in their seats as quickly and safely as possible and put stadium employees back to work.
We all know fans love and want their sports. According to ESPN’s Coronavirus Lockdown Fan Study, 78% of fans surveyed wanted a return of college and professional sports despite not being able to attend games. And, while fans have returned to some sports in a limited capacity, the bottom line is we need everybody back as soon and safely as possible because we need the fans just as much as fans need the game. Plus, playing in front of cardboard cutouts can never replace thousands of wildly cheering fans who give us energy, excitement and help us play at our best to win.
There is also the human element — being able to socialize with old friends again and even make new ones. Spending time together helps us all forget about the pressures and grind of daily life, even if for just a few hours. For those dealing with struggles — going to an event can also bring hope and inspiration, especially to those that we honor at our games — our military, first responders, cancer survivors and other countless community heroes who deserve our admiration and thanks.
Then there is the economic impact.
All of those who make our sport possible and enjoyable — from the ticket sellers, ushers, concession stand and gift shop workers, maintenance crews and security personnel — need to get back to work safely as well. There is also the local economy that benefits greatly from fans eating at restaurants and shopping before and after games as well as staying at hotels.
Certainly, professional sports leagues have moved mountains and instituted extensive safety measures, including temperature checks, testing and travel restrictions, to ensure that we have our respective seasons. To help slowly bring back fans, albeit in a limited capacity, stadiums and arenas have been deploying the latest sanitization technology — from drones and robots to coronavirus sniffing dogs.
These are great technologies but team owners and executives need to do more, especially since by all accounts the coronavirus could very well be with us for a very long time, maybe even forever. That should not deter our efforts.
The leagues have to invest in new technologies that can sanitize while people are actually present. Whether it is the concourses, restrooms or anywhere fans or employees gather, new advancements are making that possible, thanks to a band of ultraviolet light called Far-UVC 222.
The beauty of Far-UVC 222 light is that it can continuously sanitize both air and surfaces while people are present in enclosed spaces. One walk-through portal-like device can even remove up to 90% of the viral load on clothing, packages and backpacks in seconds. And, best of all, research shows it is not harmful to humans.
Today, Far-UVC 222 is starting to be used in professional sports and many other sectors of our economy, including restaurants, senior living communities and tourist attractions. We believe strongly in Far-UVC and its capabilities, which is why we have invested in Healthe, a company manufacturing an array of solutions utilizing this technology.
We also urgently need more testing and certification so that we know fans entering the gates of our stadiums and arenas are safe to do so. The Buffalo Bills, for example, tested more than 6,000 fans prior to the team’s playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts. This kind of testing needs to happen more frequently and be available at home where it is convenient and safer.
The beauty of sports is that it has a way of bringing people together in ways that few other activities can. Given the events of last year, our country and our world desperately need sports. Each day, we are doing a little bit more to bring back some semblance of the old normal, with masks, social distancing and vaccines. However, we also need to ensure that we have the testing and the technology that will not only keep our building air clean and free of viruses but also enable us to congregate safely for the long term as we continue to battle the coronavirus and maybe future ones.
We need our fans and their energy, not fake crowd noise. We also need all the workers who make our game possible back on the job. Safety is always paramount but smart investments by athletes and ownership can help us maintain it, while filling our arenas, ballparks and stadiums much faster — once again.
Lars Eller is a center with the Washington Capitals and Matt Barkley is a quarterback with the Buffalo Bills.
REPRINT FROM SPORTS BUSINESS JOURNAL